School Threats Usually Not Serious

Melanie Mayhew has a great piece in today’s Progress about the importance of not overreacting to threats of violence in high schools, as in the case of the alleged planning of attacks on local high schools by three students. It’s tempting for news outlets to hype such stories, because it gets readers and viewers, but the fact is that idle declarations of violent intent are common among unhappy middle- and high-school students, while actual incidents are very rare. Lisa Provence has an article that touches on some of the same themes in this week’s Hook. It’s nice to see some rationality emerging from the discussion of this incident.

20 Responses to “School Threats Usually Not Serious”


  • I agree with the general point “that idle declarations of violent intent are common among unhappy middle- and high-school students, while actual incidents are very rare.” However, in the post-Columbine world, school administrators and law enforcement have no choice but to err on the side of caution after discovering students’ plans to cause mayhem. Any response short of swiftly eliminating even the most embryonic of threats would result in severe recrimination should the students’ threats ever be carried out.

  • The Judge is correct – several news outlets have taken the path of “well, they probably wouldn’t have really done anything”. However, if a attack did occur and hindsight proved that there had been threats that weren’t taken seriously, these same news outlets and every other member of the community would demand that school administrators be thrown in prison. We have seen too many students and teachers die in school hallways to brush aside violent threats – any student making threats needs to be punished severely.

  • I don’t think anybody has suggested that no action should have been taken. At least, I haven’t seen anybody state or imply that.

  • I understand the need to be cautious in the extreme with situations like this, and I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s possible to turn these into win/win situations.

    Win- It’s better to be safe than ignore a potential problem that could later blow up on people (no pun intended).

    Win- It gives the student an opportunity to learn (albeit the hard way) that actions have real world consequences.

    Win- It’s the opportunity to identify a possibly troubled child and get that child into counciling (and I don’t mean “guidance”).

    Caveat: As long as it’s nothing more serious than threats or fists, and no one’s seriously/permanently/irreversably injured (and provided that the child maintains some sort of long term counciling). It should be dealt with for what it is.. children growing up.. and making mistakes in the process.

    Kid’s aren’t miniature adults.. so (short of murder) the consequences shouldn’t be the same.

  • To anyone who thinks this way “We have seen too many students and teachers die in school hallways to brush aside violent threats – any student making threats needs to be punished severely” I offer these facts:

    Worldwide, since 1996, roughly 115 students and teachers have been killed in school shootings

    Roughly 3500 teens die in car accidents each year in the US

    Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death amoung teens in the US. Roughly 1900 teens die from suicide each year

    Are administrative and government reactions to threats of school violence overblown? You be the judge.

  • I’ve read the above several times through, and still can’t figure out what your point could possibly be.

    I didn’t know the number killed in school attacks was 115, but I still think that’s too many. It’s not that I’m not concerned about the 31500 that died in car crashes or 17100 that killed themselves over the same period – those are too many also, and we should do all we can to fix those problems too.

    My problem was with the media reaction to several students planning and/or threatening to blow up schools – namely, multiple media outlets printing stories downplaying the seriousness of the threats because they find that in the majority of cases, the students never go through with it.

    To tie in your other facts, here are examples of media reactions that would also anger me:

    1. A sudden rash of teens is arrested for drunk driving, and two newpapers publish stories about how 9 times out of 10 they would have made it home without killing themselves or someone else anyway.

    2. In response to teens who have threatened or talked about suicide, newspapers run articles about how most teens who talk about suicide never actually kill themselves.

  • multiple media outlets printing stories downplaying the seriousness of the threats because they find that in the majority of cases, the students never go through with it.

    To be fair, “the majority of cases” rather understates the matter. Let’s go with “the overwhelming majority of cases,” “the vast majority of cases,” or “over 99 percent of the time.”

  • I’m guessing that’s also the approximate statistic for suicide & drunk driving.

  • So what if an “overwhelming” minority of students who make the threats dont’ follow through? Those that do, kill innocent people and create lifetimes of pain and suffering for others. The threats should be taken seriously. The knowledge that there will be severe consequences for even threatening havoc will reduce the number of false threats.

  • And yet again I say: Nobody has said that these threats should not be taken seriously. We are all in agreement here.

  • I see what you’re saying, Waldo. The problem lies in the implication of the title of this thread: School Threats Ususally Not Serious. This suggests (intentionally or not) that the reaction we’ve all witnessed of arresting and incarcerating the three juveniles was probably an overreaction to a threat that would most likely never materialize. Many of us feel this is silly as the consequences of not being sufficiently proactive are too terrible to contemplate.

  • I think part of the problem is the dual meaning of “serious.” Any time that such a threat is issued it’s “serious,” in the sense that the recipient of such a threat needs to treat it as a genuine possibility. But school threats are almost always not serious on the part of the individuals making the threat. It is the latter to which I was referring; it hadn’t occurred to me to read it the other way, though it’s certainly understandable that many would.

  • Of course, this is all speculation until we know the facts about the alledged bomb threat…our fears may well be born out by the evidence…but my point is that the actual, statistical, real threat of school violence is minascule when compared to other ways that teens die, yet the authorities have chosen to handle this in a very public, very alarmist way….and for what purpose? I just hope there is some real evidence here, because the thought of locking up our kids for what they think or say is pretty disturbing.

  • Planetman echoes my feelings exactly. Maybe evidence will be produced that a violent crime was to be committed by these boys.But thats not the case now.
    That said,it does point to the need for everyone to use common sense in saying certain things. You don’t joke about bombs when at airports, or stick-ups in banks.
    “Conspiracy” is often a charge used to get at dissidents or nonconformists. I have stated earlier my concern about witch-hunts aimed at kids who are “different” or “loners”. Suppose some kid posts fiction or fantasy on a Web site-and has it taken as an actual threat? There is talk about a “therapeutic” approach. Well, the Soviet Union used psychiatry against dissidents. “Lock you in a looney bin and tell you you’re cuckoo” in the words of Joan Baez introducing a song she wrote about a political prisoner there in the 70s.
    Our history shows all too well what is done to those perceived as “enemies of society”, from the Wobblies to the hippies, radicals, and Black Panthers of the 60s. And then there is Bush telling us all that questionable stuff he is doing is necessary to protect us from terrorism.
    The full story here may not have come out. But for now I am not convicting those kids of anything like the authorities seem to be doing, and not saying what they DID! Not thought, not wrote, not said, what acts were illegal. Did they have explosive devices, for example?

  • Waldo wrote:

    I think part of the problem is the dual meaning of “serious.”

    Okay, call me a little slow. I didn’t see any explanation of the “dual meaning of ‘serious'” in that last post. I’d like to know how “serious” can have 2 meanings, and what those two meanings are?

    In my opinion something is either “serious” or it is “not serious.” Of course serious in my book doesn’t mandate any single specific action nor should it. But still I’d like clarification as to the possible dual meanings of serious.

  • As I wrote:

    Any time that such a threat is issued it’s “serious,” in the sense that the recipient of such a threat needs to treat it as a genuine possibility. But school threats are almost always not serious on the part of the individuals making the threat. It is the latter to which I was referring; it hadn’t occurred to me to read it the other way, though it’s certainly understandable that many would.

  • Another way of saying this might be, “all such threats must be taken _seriously_, but not all threats are _serious_.” It isn’t so much that there are two kinds of seriousness, but rather it is the difference between the adjective “serious.” modifying the noun “threat.” and the adverb “seriously,” describing the way authorities ought to respond to all such threats.

    What a grammar wonk.

  • Thanks as well Cecil.

    And yes I was nitpicking. As I am understanding now there isn’t a dual meaning to serious its still the same word, and what was intended was that there are just degrees of seriousness, reflecting how something which is serious should be handled and approached.

  • After reading the coverage in the media this week I believe we need to reframe how we look at this. In the Hook, Camblos says that threats must be considered in light of Columbine which is a legitimate viewpoint but I would like to suggest that we look at some local events for an alternative viewpoint. In the spring of 1998, there was a horrible shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. where two boys pulled a false firealarm and then attacked the evacuated students. Soon after that there was a series of false firealarms at Albemarle High School which were truly frightening for those of us who had children at AHS. However, it turned out that the perpetrator was an elementary school age child who was a busdriver’s child. After Columbine, this community experienced many bomb threats at both middle and high schools. More seriously, there was a very threatening child at a local high school (I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this boy rememberd this winter by parents/students from the 99-03 high school era) who the community actually saved by a combination of medical treatment, compassion and continued effort at the high school; he was doing service projects for the community by the time he was a high school senior. My point is that fear, and poor risk assessment, distort our sense of justice and discount the possibilities for redemption.

Comments are currently closed.

Sideblog