GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Reports of school threats have spiked in some West Michigan communities following the shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
The tragedy has also heightened the level of sensitivity and concern of parents, who say they want to know about threats involving schools and how administrators handle them.
This issue came to a head Tuesday at Northview High School, where word spreading about a school threat caused dozens of students to abruptly leave school early.
The situation, police said, was related to a Feb. 22 incident in which one student allegedly threatened to shoot another during a verbal altercation. Police had already deemed that the threat was not credible because the student in question didn’t have a gun, Kent County sheriff’s officials said.
Nonetheless, the school seemed intent on keeping information about the threat quiet. The superintendent even told 24 Hour News 8 that he had no idea what might be behind the student lockout, a notion that later seemed unlikely once investigators confirmed that school leaders were the ones to report the threat in the first place.
Larry Johnson, the assistant superintendent and executive director of public safety for Grand Rapids Public Schools, has worked in school security for 22 years and authored a book on the topic. He says communication is key following a threat, especially in a day and age where news seems to spread faster than ever.
“Communication is everything,” Johnson told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “(School officials) know that parents want to know. They know that kids want to know.”
Johnson said the idea of keeping potential threat under wraps so as not to create more of a scare is archaic thinking.
“We’ve seen that reversal in that trend,” he said. “We are doing a lot of communicating with parents across the community.”
Johnson says he has seen what happens when parents find things out in other ways.
“We’ve gotten it wrong sometimes,” Johnson said. “We need to get that information out to them.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Wednesday a record month for “OK2SAY,” a program that allows students to make anonymous reports of potential violence and school threats. In February, 119 threat reports came in statewide.
Late last month, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker put out a public warning after noticing what he called an “unprecedented” number of school threat incidents being reported to his office. On Wednesday, he said the flow had slowed since that statement.
Northview schools were closed Wednesday due to winter weather, the school website said.