Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Districts Walk Fine Line When It Comes to School Safety Threats

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Districts Walk Fine Line When It Comes to School Safety Threats

Article excerpt

When administrators with the Plum Borough School District got word last weekend that two students talked about bringing a gun to the high school, the superintendent said he immediately called local police.

An investigation found that the threat was an "unsubstantiated" rumor, officials said.

But parents questioned at a school board meeting on Tuesday why they weren't also notified. If the threat warranted a call to police and heightened security at Plum High School, why weren't they informed, too?

"It's difficult," said Plum school board President Kevin Dowdell. "I'm sure people want to know, but once again you've got to see what the credibility of some of these threats were."

School leaders have described managing threats to school safety as walking a fine line between avoiding a truly dangerous situation and creating unnecessary panic. And unfortunately, it's a dilemma they have had to deal with more frequently.

Sixty-five students in Allegheny County were caught with a "cutting instrument," explosive, BB gun or pellet gun, or other type of weapon on school property during the 2015-16 school year, state data show.

"Obviously, you have competing impulses here," said attorney Ira Weiss, who serves as the solicitor for Pittsburgh Public Schools and other local school districts. "On the one hand, the risk of an inadequate response is that something will happen. On the other hand, there's ample evidence to show that in some cases this occurs either because the student has issues or because the student wants to disrupt things."

A letter was posted to the Plum district website Wednesday, in response to news reports about the threat.

"Student safety is a top priority for our District," superintendent Timothy Glasspool wrote in the letter. "Our goal is to be vigilant about the safety of our students and staff. Our process for managing rumors of any kind is to notify the police, allow them to investigate and to validate a rumor, and take action. …

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