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Other view: School threats must be taken seriously

3:48 PM, Mar. 14, 2013  |  Comments
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In the past three weeks, three central Wisconsin school districts have dealt with threats, in each case disrupting classes.

Medford Police arrested a 17-year-old girl after a threat was left in a girls bathroom Feb. 21 at Medford High School. The girl, a student at the school, was arrested thanks to "old-fashioned police work," after officers interviewed students and staff members, with surveillance footage helping narrow the list of suspects.

The Wood County Sheriff's Department investigated a complaint regarding the possibility of a student bringing a weapon to Auburndale High School on Feb. 27. Officers found the threat to be unfounded, and the case was closed.

On Monday, police took a Nekoosa High School student into custody after a staff member learned there was a possibility of a gun in the school in south Wood County.

We commend police and the school districts in Medford, Auburndale and Nekoosa for dealing with the threats promptly and seriously. Fortunately, in each case, no weapon was found, and the threat was just that - a threat - or a rumor of a threat.

While each turned out to be a false alarm, two instances will affect high school students in ways they might not have anticipated. Students who make threats could face misdemeanor charges of obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct, both which come with maximum penalties of up to nine months in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.

The schools also faced disruption. Auburndale and Medford alerted parents to the threats and told them if they kept their children home from school, they would not be adversely affected. In Auburndale, 255 elementary school students, or 55 percent, and 140 high school students stayed home the day after the threat. In Medford, about 75 percent of students stayed home the day after the threat. Nekoosa released high school students early to investigate the threat.

For those students who attended school and their teachers, it would have been difficult to get anything done. Teachers couldn't move ahead with lessons, because students were excused from school. The disruption was lessened at Nekoosa, with students missing just a little of the school day, but you can bet the buzz at school extended well beyond Monday and caused some disruption to classes.

There is a cost involved for the manpower to evacuate and search a school, to conduct the interviews and determine the veracity of the case. Yes, that's the job for police, but that time could be spent investigating other crimes that actually happened. Taxpayers are footing the bill on two fronts - for police costs and for schools, whether school is in session or not.

Surely students who make such threats must know the possibility they will be caught is high. Is it worth it to risk jail time and a fine for a threat? Yet every threat must be investigated as potentially serious, and every person who makes a threat must be prosecuted. It's unfortunate it has come to this, but that's the price to keep schools safe.

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