Threats expand to more schools
At a glance:
¯ Waterford, Beverly and Belpre students were impacted by bomb threats to the Wolf Creek Local, Fort Frye Local and Belpre City school districts Monday.
¯ The threats were delivered via the same voice over internet protocol number as last week’s threats to Wolf Creek Local Schools.
¯ Early dismissal impacted elementary and high school buildings for each district.
¯ All three school districts threatened Monday confirmed increased security will be in place in the districts today and Wednesday.
Sources: Washington County school districts and Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
Three school days, three days of threats from a New York phone number sent Washington County schools into high alert.
But Washington County superintendents and principals lauded the open communication line with each other and law enforcement to maintain safe and secure learning environments despite the disruption again on Monday.
Waterford High School Principal Suellen Coleman confirmed Monday that the high school received another threat first thing Monday from the same voice over internet protocol phone number that plagued the rural school district on Thursday and Friday last week.
Then, Wolf Creek Local Schools announced via social media and following early dismissal Monday that today no school will take place, asking families to treat Tuesday like a snow day.
Monday’s scheduled Board of Education meeting for Wolf Creek was also canceled, to be rescheduled at a later date, but with planned athletics continuing Monday.
“From day one this year I’ve wanted this to be as normal as we can for the kids while still following all of the (coronavirus-related) guidelines,” noted Wolf Creek Superintendent Doug Baldwin on Friday after similar threats rang through the districts’ phones for two days. “We don’t want anybody out there interrupting these days of learning and their school experience.”
Meanwhile school districts which were only tangentially impacted last week by threats to the Waterford area school system saw the disruption expand into their areas Monday.
Fort Frye Local Schools Superintendent Stephanie Starcher confirmed students were sent home early Monday following a bomb threat at approximately 10 a.m. to the high school in Beverly, and subsequent evacuations and lockouts at the district’s four buildings; including Lowell and Salem-Liberty elementary schools.
Parents confirmed the district had a planned two-hour delay, and some chose to keep their students home following notification of the threat to the district’s high school.
Belpre City Schools Superintendent Jeff Greenley confirmed the city elementary school also received a threat Monday causing evacuation and early dismissal for the school district.
“I know that in the county some districts are still doing testing, fortunately, for Belpre City Schools we’ve completed that so it wasn’t an issue for us,” he noted of the disruption’s impacts. “But this year, learning is already at a premium because of the impact of COVID. We’ve already felt the need to squeeze the juice out of every instructional day that we can to keep (students) moving forward and to make up for lost time last year. Hats off to my team today, I thought they really did a brilliant job coordinating everything and getting students to the central office and ultimately on the bus and in cars. They did a great job flipping that switch and providing the needed service. But we know there’s cumulative impacts both on students and teachers.”
Greenley noted social-emotional learning is also disrupted by the potential trauma of threats to a school district, a sentiment echoed last week in debrief with Wolf Creek staff by Baldwin.
“I know that learning loss is a term that is thrown around and I think some of the superintendents that I’m in circles with they push back against that sentiment because, yes, there may be some academic learning loss but there’s been a whole lot of grit, persistence, perseverance, adaptation. There’s been tons of loss of learning there,” said Greenley. “(Children) are constantly learning, it’s just been different types of things that they’ve been learning.”
Warren Local Schools, the Washington County Career Center, Frontier Local Schools and Marietta City Schools confirmed their school days operated as usual Monday for students, but with administration on alert and ready to pivot if needed.
“We will run our day as usual until the fire department here tells me differently,” said Marietta Superintendent Will Hampton.
Washington County Career Center confirmed that busing and early dismissal was coordinated with the joint-vocational schools’ partnering home schools to return students to their homes Monday, while in New Matamoras and Newport, protocols were reviewed.
“I kind of jump every time I hear the phone ring now, but on our end … all staff have been made aware of our protocol and we’re hoping not to mess up our (students) days,” said Beth Brown, superintendent and high school principal for Frontier.
Then, in the afternoon after buildings were cleared of safety threats, this time with the aid to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Belpre City Police also drawing on regional resources of the Ohio University bomb-sniffing dogs and those from Franklin County, administrators debriefed together and with law enforcement.
“Behind the scenes we’re always preparing just in case,” said Warren Superintendent Kyle Newton. “All the county superintendents today, including the career center (so seven of us) and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Belpre police were in the same call this afternoon. … Thankfully, with the school community we have in Washington County the superintendents are all very close to each other and we work really well together … You know you’re going to need support or the advice of another in so many situations and so we stay in that close contact.”
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks would not comment on the pursuit of any suspect as of press time Monday, but confirmed his office’s attendance in the virtual debrief with administrators Monday.
According to Ohio Revised Code Section 2917.31 the threats of an active shooter/bomb fall under the crime of inducing panic, which is elevated to a second-degree felony by involving a school or institution of higher learning according to division (B)(5) of that section.
The state law reads that “no person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by doing any of the following:
(1) Initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false;
(2) Threatening to commit any offense of violence;
(3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.”
The law falls under the chapter titled “Offenses Against the Public Peace,” with a maximum fine of $15,000 and a prison sentence between two and eight years according to Washington County Assistant Prosecutor David Silwani.
But Silwani noted, a second charge could also be levied by the arresting agency if a suspect is found.
“Usually a case like this you charge both inducing panic and false alarm,” said Silwani. “The last person that was charged with (both) was the (woman) that made the Boxers Bed and Biscuits threat.”
Ohio Revised Code Section 2917.32 outlines the offense of making false alarms stating that “no person shall do any of the following:
(1) Initiate or circulate a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that the report or warning is false and likely to cause public inconvenience or alarm;
(2) Knowingly cause a false alarm of fire or other emergency to be transmitted to or within any organization, public or private, for dealing with emergencies involving a risk of physical harm to persons or property;
(3) Report to any law enforcement agency an alleged offense or other incident within its concern, knowing that such offense did not occur;
(4) Initiate or circulate a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that the report or warning is false and likely to impede the operation of a critical infrastructure facility.”
Mincks confirmed that increased law enforcement presence is planned throughout the county and surrounding rural school districts’ buildings this week.
Only Marietta City Schools, Fort Frye Local Schools and Warren Local Schools have designated resource officers for their districts, Greenley confirmed his district relies on the support of Belpre City Police without a designated officer.
Last week’s threats to Waterford drew the coordination and operational command from Fort Frye’s resource officer Deputy Jason Hall.
Staff Reporter Evan Bevins contributed to this story.
Janelle Patterson may be reached at