Decatur Schools responds to questions and concerns regarding threat response

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 11, 2015
The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Schools of Decatur received many inquires from parents after it was revealed that someone had threatened to “blow up” an unidentified school.

The threat, received two days after school officials found a bullet on the boys locker room floor at Decatur High, led to an increased police presence on campus and precautionary actions by school officials. CSD didn’t officially release any information about it until Wednesday afternoon.

Parents wanted to know how serious the threat was. They also wanted to know why they weren’t notified earlier.

Superintendent David Dude released a lengthy Q&A late on Thursday evening about CSD’s response. The Q&A also provided some new details about the events that occurred on Wednesday.

Dude said a “young male” called the Decatur Police Department non-emergency line on Wednesday morning and said, “I’m going to blow up the school.”

He also explained why school officials haven’t elaborated on how they determined the threat was not credible.

“Unfortunately, threats – locally and otherwise – often inspire ‘copy cats.’ Describing in detail how we evaluate threats can provide a ‘recipe’ to those who wish to disrupt schools, so the district does not advertise that information,” Dude said.

Some parents reported the 4/5 Academy went into lock down mode on Wednesday, something that wasn’t initially reported by CSD.

“The situation yesterday did not warrant a lockdown, so schools were not directed to do so,” Dude said. “We have investigated reports to the contrary and determined that some individual classrooms at (4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue) were asked to lock their doors while the building was being inspected due to their proximity to the entry doors. Following the inspection an email was sent to inform those teachers they no longer needed to keep their doors locked. Every school is unique, so principals are empowered to make such decisions as they see fit in order to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

Here is the full Q&A released by CSD:

Good evening,

We have received several questions and comments following yesterday’s communications about the threat and associated response. The following information is intended to help answer those questions and clear up some confusion. Thank you to all who provided feedback, allowing us to improve future actions in such situations.

What exactly was the threat?

A person estimated to be a young male phoned the Decatur Police Department non-emergency line yesterday morning around 10:30 am and said “I’m going to blow up the school.”

Have they identified the caller?

No, they have not yet identified the caller.

How was it determined that this was not a “credible threat”?

Law enforcement officials, in collaboration with administrators, evaluate threats for specific indicators. Additionally, in the case of a threat such as this, buildings and grounds are searched for any suspicious items or activities.

Why won’t the school district describe in more detail how they evaluate these threats?

Unfortunately, threats–locally and otherwise–often inspire “copy cats.” Describing in detail how we evaluate threats can provide a “recipe” to those who wish to disrupt schools, so the district does not advertise that information.

Why do people make these false threats?

No one can know for certain exactly why an individual makes false threats. While the reasons are numerous, they often involve anger over a specific situation, an attempt to get attention, a misguided attempt to be “cool” or “funny,” or a lack of understanding of how serious it is to make a threat.

Why doesn’t the district immediately assume every threat is real and evacuate buildings?

The school district takes every threat extremely seriously. The vast majority of threats are false threats, and actions such as mass evacuation bring their own dangers. Therefore, district officials must treat each threat as the unique circumstance it is, evaluating the totality of evidence available at the time, in close consultation with law enforcement, to decide the course of action that will likely result in the least harm.

How did the district notify parents of this situation?

The district used many different means to notify staff and parents.

– An email was sent to all staff.

– An email was sent to the district-wide eBlast distribution list (csdecatur.net/subscribe).

– An email was sent to each school-specific eNews distribution list (check school websites for information on subscribing).

– A message was posted on the district’s Facebook page (facebook.com/cityschoolsofdecatur).

– A message was posted on the Superintendent’s Facebook (facebook.com/csdsupt) and Twitter pages (twitter.com/csdsupt).

– A message was posted on the district website (csdecatur.net).

Why didn’t the district notify parents via a “robocall”?

The nature of this threat was evaluated and determined to not rise to a level for which an automated phone call was appropriate. Overuse of automated calling can lead to individuals disregarding calls, and therefore missing critical communications, so the district must balance use of such tools with frequency of such use.

Why weren’t parents notified sooner?

Parents were notified as soon as the district had complete and accurate information regarding the two incidents. Because no one was deemed to be in any immediate danger, it was determined that it was better to err on the side of providing accurate, confirmed information rather than distributing multiple messages that may change as additional information is learned. Other situations may deem other appropriate means and timing of communication.

Why were schools put on “lockdown” if it wasn’t a credible threat?

Our schools practice “lockdown” procedures so they are ready to respond to incidents requiring students to be physically secured. (In fact, Clairemont Elementary conducted such a pre-scheduled drill yesterday.) The situation yesterday did not warrant a lockdown, so schools were not directed to do so. We have investigated reports to the contrary and determined that some individual classrooms at F.AVE were asked to lock their doors while the building was being inspected due to their proximity to the entry doors. Following the inspection an email was sent to inform those teachers they no longer needed to keep their doors locked. Every school is unique, so principals are empowered to make such decisions as they see fit in order to ensure the safety of students and staff.

How will the district react differently in the future?

District administrators take every incident such as this very seriously, and use each as an opportunity to learn and improve. While debriefing about this, we were surprised how many parents did not subscribe to their school’s, or the district’s, eBlast system. In order to allow for communications that are solely emergency in nature, we are going to create a specific eBlast distribution list that parents may subscribe to if they only wish to receive emergency messages (such as school closings or delays, threats such as the one yesterday, and other health, safety, and security items of immediate concern). Details on subscribing will be shared via school newsletters and the district website and social media as soon as this option is available.

What can parents do differently in the future?

Subscribe to school and district eBlast lists. Subscribe to the emergency communication list (as soon as it is available). Keep your contact information updated in the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. Contact the school or district office with questions and concerns in lieu of spreading information that has not been confirmed. Trust that school and district staff are just as concerned about the safety or your student as you are, and will therefore always make decisions in the best interest of the children, as if the children are their own (which they often are).

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field