Central Texas school districts face challenges identifying credible school shooting threats vs. fake ones

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN has reported on several school shooting threats over the past few weeks in the Central Texas area. And most were just that — threats, without action.

On Tuesday, the Bowie High School community in south Austin experienced a scare.

According to the Austin Independent School District, a student reported an email with a picture of guns on Monday. That same picture popped up online again Tuesday, with a message that made it seem like there was a threat to Bowie High School. 

When things like this spread online, districts suddenly find themselves under a lot of pressure to communicate with parents while trying to find out exactly what’s going on.

A similar situation happened with the Hays Consolidated School District Monday.

A picture of a screenshot of a post surfaced in a Facebook group. Someone wrote they were going to shoot up a school. It turned out not to be related to Hays CISD at all, but a parent speculated it was.

“We did have parents who kept their kids home today,” Principal of Hays High School David Pierce said. “That’s their choice as a parent.”

School administrators like Pierce deal with those disruptions while trying to gauge how real any scare is.

So, how exactly are these incidents investigated and managed?

Each district in the state is required to have a threat assessment program trained by the Texas State School Safety Center or a regional education service. The team works with law enforcement to investigate.

“We want to keep the core of our investigations as tight as we possibly can,” Hays CISD Director of Safety and Security Jeri Skrocki said. “So, the minute that somebody sees something on social media, we implore you, get with your parents, get with your school administrators, tell a trusted adult and immediately show someone what you have.”

When the rumors swirl between students first, however, it can complicate the investigation. 

Brian Clayson, program manager of curriculum and instruction at the Texas School Safety Center recommends districts standardize how they evaluate threats. According to Clayson, this will make collecting data simpler and identify patterns statewide. 

“It’s more about looking at trends than just the blanket: ‘Here’s five or six things that we recommend that you do,'” Clayson said.

In the meantime, schools must take all threats seriously and ask for help with direct communication from staff, students and parents. 

“I always tell parents, ‘have your kid come talk to me, or I’ll go talk to them myself if they’re at school to reassure them that, hey, things are ok,'” Pierce said.

The Texas School Safety Center is currently working on fine-tuning investigative steps, since every district and school has its own challenges and resources. 

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