Local News

Parental Notification Depends Upon School System

Posted February 26, 2002

— A child comes home from school with a tale about drugs seized at school, a weapon found or a bomb threat. In some school systems, the child's word is all the information parents will get. Where is the note from school?

Bunn Middle School is a typical school with typical problems. So, when the principal discovered a bomb threat there last month, there was no blast of school alarms.

Classes continued, and administrators went quietly about the school to investigate. The threat, written in a math book, said that a bomb would blow up in two days.

"I found out during math class. After that I was kind of worried, because I didn't know if it was for real or just a game," said student Tabitha Huffman.

The student went home without answers, but she had a big story to tell her mother.

"I was furious," said Dawn Huffman, Tabitha's mother. "I wanted the school to at least send a note or a phone call or something home with the child."

"It was like a nightmare," she said. "I didn't send [my children to school] the next day because I didn't know ... if they were going to be safe."

These days, bomb threats are almost routine in some schools. They happen in schools everywhere. Students are evacuated, buildings are checked, and students return to class.

Many school systems never tell parents about safety checks, police sweeps, weapons, bomb and other threats that they check out and do not deem credible.

There is no policy in Franklin County that requires parental notification.

"The thing I struggle with every day is when to send out that notice to parents regarding a safety issue if there is no safety issue. One of the things I get concerned about is alarming parents for no reason at all," said Dr. Carl Harris, superintendent of Franklin County Schools.

Principal Fannie Perry was on top of the situation at Bunn Middle School. She alerted Franklin County Schools' central office and law enforcement, but parents were not notified right away.

"One of the things we do is to look at the threat or the problem," she said. "Is it specific, and is it immediate? Is it something that is going to happen right now?"

It is a judgment call every school system makes.

Cumberland County does not have a set policy on notification, either. However, it does have a policy about open communication.

"Our response to that individual situation is to notify parents if it's in the best interest of the children -- especially if we see a need to protect children before or after school," said Sara Piland, associate superintendent of Cumberland County Schools.

Most times, that means the school or the central office sends a letter home about potential health or safety threats to let parents in on decisions concerning their children.

Parents who may be alarmed when their children come home with sketchy stories have an option that principals encourage.

"If parents have a question, and we've not sent a note home, we'd love for them to call," Perry said.

However, Dawn Huffman wants more information from Franklin County in exchange for her trust.

"They might have been wrong, and it might have fallen through. Today, we cannot stand back and say, 'Well, I don't need to know this.' I think we need to know everything that goes on in the schools. Everything," she said.

In the Bunn incident, the school system did send a note home with students two days after the school was searched. The note informed parents of the steps the school had taken. Huffman said that she never got the note.

It might be surprising to learn that school bomb threats are fairly common, especially since the Columbine shootings. The media does check them out, but does not report them because perpetrators are usually students who want attention.

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