Earlier this week, the Queensbury Union Free School District went on lockdown as a result of a e-mailed bomb threat. Then the elementary students were evacuated to the Dome, from where they were dismissed. There was no bomb of course. There was never a bomb. As far as I can tell, there has never been a single, credible bomb threat to a school that was phoned in ahead of time. It sounds horrible to say, but maybe it is time to not take these threats seriously.
Full disclosure. I work in a school. My 7 year old is a student at Queensbury, and my wife was working for them on campus when this occurred. So everything I recommend is something I would apply to my own family.
It is easy to call in a bomb threat. It takes little to no effort, and it makes people run around an go through all sorts of procedures to deal with it. Fortunately this person was caught, and could face years in jail as a result of it. My child lost an afternoon of learning, and my wife had to work late to deal with the fallout from all of this. Most staff and parents understand that these bomb threats never amount to anything, and reacted with calm. But there were some postings on social media from hysterical parents who were upset that their child was in danger. Some even said they would pull their children from school on Friday to give them a long weekend to recover from their ordeal. My 7 year old reported to me that it was “boring”. She went to school just fine on Friday.
Let’s look at this logically now. If someone actually wanted to bomb students. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to e-mail of phone in a threat ahead of time, now would it? Phoning in a threat is easy, actually getting a bomb inside the school is hard. Calling in a threat when there was actually a bomb inside the school would make zero sense, even within their twisted ideology. So whenever these threats get called in, it is safer to assume that their is no bomb, rather than there is actually a serious threat.
But things can go wrong. If you evacuate a building, you are moving students outside. Inside the building there is security and more surveillance and protocols to protect the students. It would be harder for a dangerous individual to get inside a building, than to be waiting outside of it for the evacuating students. Known safety plans can be exploited. The Dome is not as secure as a school building, and the students are more exposed when they are between one place or the other.
You are also adding an element of chaos. The students are being taken from their normal routine. In addition to not learning, they might become upset. They are harder to control. They are no longer in the classroom where their teacher is comfortable and in charge. They are more likely to have a freak accident or get into some sort of trouble with all the newly added moving parts. I saw some facebook posts where parents were upset that a child was sent home, while the parent was at the school looking for them, or thinking they were at another location. An actual accident or tragedy is more likely to occur in these situations, rather than just continuing as normal and ignoring the non existent bomb.
Here’s a fact.
Number of students killed per year in school bombings- 0
Number of students killed per year in school bus accidents – 6 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/09/15/school-bus-safety-statistics/72318198/)
So putting students on a bus actually raises the risk to the students, no matter how slightly. The risk to students on a bus is at least measureable. If some of these bomb threats ever turn out to be even slightly credible, then we can get upset about them, but until that time, it’s ok to treat them as if they were as empty as they always have been.
I’m also not a fan of revealing exact safety procedures. If we look at this bomb scare as a chance to practice what they would do in an actual emergency, then I am more ok with it. It’s rare that the police and school officials get to fully act out what would happen in the event of a real emergency. So it is good practice, but practice can be overrated. I think I would rather be unpredictable.
When I was teaching a class, we had a lockdown drill, and we had to hide in our safe locations. On of my more “interesting” students grabbed a tent stake I had nearby, and crouched behind the door, holding it like a knife. He told me he was prepared to stab anyone who tried to break through the door. I remember thinking “buddy, if anyone was going to try to bust through that door on a murderous rampage, my money is on you” Joking aside though, we just showed students exactly where the targets would be hiding if someone actually did want to do harm. I question how good of an idea that is.
I want to close out with a bit of a rant on fire drills. It’s been almost 60 years since there has been a school fire in the US that resulted in at least ten deaths (http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fires-by-property-type/educational/school-fires-with-10-or-more-deaths) Yet my class needs to be interrupted 12 times a year so we can go stand outside for 5 minutes. Based on the safety plans, I actually have to walk past three perfectly good doors to reach the one I am allowed to go out of. This is because the first three doors would take me too close to the school building to be considered an acceptable evacuation route. But if the school was on fire bad enough that that route was no good, so would be the one they are expecting me to take. It’s rules for the sake of rules and bureaucracy. Every year thousands of students fail because they did not sit down, be quiet and pay attention. But we have zero drills for that. And that actually messes up peoples lives.
It’s time to not be so over reactive. I’d like to see see the day when a bomb threat can be called into a school, and the person on the other end can just say “Oh bullcrap” and hang up.