There were multiple threats against students and faculty in Jefferson County Public Schools in the week following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but all of them were deemed …
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There were multiple threats against students and faculty in Jefferson County Public Schools in the week following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but all of them were deemed unfounded by local law enforcement and the district’s security team.
“We have been dealing with multiple threats each day, each requiring a significant response and investigation,” said Dr. Jason Glass, superintendent of Jeffco schools, adding that the number of threats have risen substantially after the Parkland shooting. This, he said, is not uncommon after a national tragedy.
“Fortunately, none of of the threats have proven credible,” Glass said. “Many of the threats we have received in recent days have originated on social media through dares, terrible jokes, or hoaxes.“
Glass said that social media has been problematic, in that rumor and misinformation is shared and uncritically accepted as truth.
Two threats in Jeffco Schools where social media has played a big role were focused on Dakota Ridge, Columbine and Arvada West high schools.
On the evening of Feb. 19, several sources reported an individual made a threat of violence toward Dakota Ridge and Columbine high schools on social media. After investigation by law enforcement and the district’s security staff, it was determined the person in the photo was not the instigator of the threat; another person used the photo, created the caption, and sent it out as a “joke.”
According to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the juvenile suspect in this case faces charges of harassment and interfering with school operation.
Arvada West High School investigated two incidents last week, and have found both to be unsubstantiated. On Feb. 16, a threatening graffiti message posted in a student restroom was reported by students. This was immediately investigated by Arvada West administration and local police officers. The graffiti was determined to be a hoax after thorough investigation by local law enforcement far before it was posted on social media, however, a photo of the graffiti, which read “I’m going to shoot up Arvada West,” went viral on social media, causing much fear throughout the community.
The Arvada Police Department is handling a criminal investigation into the matter.
These are not isolated incidents.
In the wake of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people were killed, schools across the metro area have been responding to reports and tips regarding potential school violence.
“In most cases, we have been able to identify and law enforcement has apprehended the perpetrator,” Glass said. “They face criminal charges, and if they are students they also face the high probability of a significant suspension or expulsion.”
Although social media can be problematic in perpetuating false information, Glass said the positive is that the district has been able to engage with the community and provide accurate and up-to-date information via social media, answer questions from the community, and give residents a place to voice fears and concerns.
On Feb. 22, Glass hosted a Facebook Live discussion with John McDonald, executive director of security and emergency management for Jeffco schools.
“It’s been heartbreaking,” McDonald said of the aftermath of the shooting in Florida. “I think for everyone around the country, this tragedy and the events that are unfolding, they are so recognizable of our tragedies here in Colorado.”
McDonald said the work being done in Jeffco following those event is “robust,” working 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of students who are scared.
But beyond the fake threats being made, McDonald said one of the biggest issue following crisis is the emotional support side and making sure students feel safe.
McDonald emphasized that one of the greatest intelligence tools the state of Colorado has is Safe2Tell, an anonymous reporting system. According to McDonald, this school year, Jeffco has logged 1,400 reports to Safe2Tell. Historically the number one report is about friends who are suicidal or bullying. But McDonald said they have seen a significant increase of students reporting threats and planned school attacks.
These reports go to law enforcement, school principals and the district’s security team. Together with the district attorney’s office and Jeffco Mental Health, they follow up on the threat until a suspect is identified and the threat is deemed founded or not.
“We respond with fidelity and we do it pretty aggressively,” McDonald said, adding that teams work all hours of the night.
Sometime the community is notified of the threat, and sometimes they are not.
Glass said the timing of parent and community notification is dependent upon variables in the investigation.
“It’s really important that we don’t compromise an ongoing investigation,” McDonald explained, adding that the team assesses the nature of the threat and the potential of violence first. “Communication is discussed at multiple levels and sometimes timing could be better, sometimes it’s spot on.”
Those who missed the Facebook Live discussion can view it on the district’s page, www.facebook.com/JeffcoPublicSchoolsColorado.
The discussion of safety and security at Jeffco schools in ongoing.
The district is planning a face-to-face engagement March 20 at Lakewood High School.
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