The potential for catastrophic violence in our schools is very real in this day and age. The tragic events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., back in 1999 opened our eyes to that. Similar sad realities have been punctuated in the years since at Nickel Mines, Pa., Blacksburg, Va. and, most recently, Newtown, Conn.
On Monday afternoon, Elkhart police alerted the public to a threat that specifically mentioned 20 children at five schools in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties would be killed on April 15. The threat did not mention the names of schools, police officials said Tuesday. These types of vague, cryptic correspondences are nothing new. Educators and police departments deal with them on a disconcertingly routine basis.
Threats to the lives and safety of children must be taken seriously, no matter how mundane, unrealistic or unlikely they may seem. Kids, especially troubled kids, may not understand the seriousness of such anonymous “actions.” Anytime a kid who may want to get out of geometry test scribbles a vague threat on the back of a bathroom stall, it siphons community resources, intrudes on the peace of mind of quality students who attend school to learn and, ultimately, endangers lives, much like the boy who cried wolf.
Think about the efforts extended to be prepared for worst case scenarios. Just last Friday, police and rescue agencies conducted a detailed response drill at West Goshen Elementary School during spring break. School leaders throughout the country are teaching young children survival procedures should an armed attack occur. We used to just worry about storm and fire drills.
Educators, police officials and even the media must walk a fine line with these anonymous threats. Taking a threat seriously, yet being realistic about its authenticity can be tricky. Are we going to cancel classes every time a teacher finds an anonymous note? Of course not.
This type of behavior has gone beyond tomfoolery in the wake of such awful violence. It’s dangerous and unnerving. It’s also time for it to stop. Unfortunately that’s wishful thinking.