Local News

Wake schools could fine students for making threats

Posted December 15, 2015 5:27 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2015 10:30 p.m. EST

— Making a threat against a school in Wake County could soon come with a big cost.

Wake County school leaders said that they’re noticing an uptick in threats made against schools and Tuesday, the board of education discussed ways to stop the trend and penalties for those who make threats.

"We have had some level of threat incident just about every week," said Wake County school board member, Jim Martin. "Students do dumb things, but dumb things can come at a huge cost."

Emergency workers must rush to a school after a threat is made and, in some cases, buildings must be emptied out to ensure students are safe. During the months of October and November, district officials said 19 threats were made on high schools and four threats on middle schools. Schools were evacuated in four of those cases.

According to the Raleigh Police Department, police responded to 14 bomb threats at Wake County schools between March 29 and Dec. 14, 2015.

In some cases, the threats may have been intended as a student prank, but district officials said that they must take all threats seriously.

"Things that may have been seen as a practical joke are not a joke by any means anymore," said Wake County school board chair Tom Benton.

Responding to false threats costs emergency workers and the school system. A new proposal would allow the superintendent to put a dollar amount on those losses and charge the student and their parents for it.

“Threats that result in the evacuation of a school, sometimes it is a bomb threat, sometimes it is a threat to shoot up a school or commit violence against the school, student body or faculty,” said Marvin Connelly, the district's chief of staff and strategic planning, of the offenses that could carry a fine.

The proposed revision to the policy manual regarding the fines said, in part:

"Students who violated rules...resulting in evacuation of a school-system-owned building, may be required to pay a restitution fee to compensate for the disruption and cost of the evacuation and any related emergency service response, in addition to any other allowable disciplinary consequence. If an emergency service or law enforcement agency imposes a fee or fine on the school or district for costs incurred as a result of the student's conduct, such costs will be assessed to the student and his or her parents. If a fine is not imposed by an outside agency, then the superintendent may calculate a standard restitution fee to reasonably compensate for the cost and disruption of a campus evacuation, which fee will be approved by the board."

The proposed change also stated that the superintendent will develop procedures for the assessment and collection of the fees and that the policy could include a process for granting waivers or alternative services for students who do not have the ability to pay.The superintendent can also suggest long-term suspensions for students who make threats.

"We have to be able to assure parents and students that when you send your students to us during the day, we are going to return them home safely," said Benton.

A spokesperson for the Raleigh Police Department said that he could not estimate the cost of police response to school threats.

The school board will vote on the proposal next month.