School shootings have forced Ohio districts to heighten the attention they give to any threats of violence by students, particularly those posted on social media.
Last year in Butler County three juveniles were charged with making terroristic threats and 17 more with inducing panic, according to Rob Clevenger, court administrator of Butler County Juvenile Court. Two students from New Miami High School and one from Ross High School were arrested late last year for allegedly threatening on social media to harm people at their schools.
A 17-year-old Ross High School junior allegedly threatened in November to kill the principal and take over the school and township. About a month earlier two New Miami High School girls, ages 14 and 15, were accused of posting messages on Facebook about disliking the school, the people there and then making a reference to gun violence.
In December, the girls, who were charged with making terroristic threats, apologized and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of inducing panic. The girls were sentenced to probation and ordered to have no contact with one another, to have no access to social media and to only use the Internet under adult supervision.
Before their sentencing, the teens said they didn’t intend the comments to be taken seriously.
“It was meant as a joke. I didn’t realize how serious it was, and I know I deserve to be punished, but I’m still a child and making mistakes,” the 14-year-old girl told Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Romans.
New Miami Superintendent David Gibson said social media makes it much easier for students to get caught up in dramatic situations like those they see on reality television.
“They just don’t get to be little for very long with the fast and furious speed of technology out there,” he said. “You can tell them that certain things will not be tolerated, but I don’t think they fully grasp it.”
Still, when the safety of all students is at stake, school district and law enforcement officials said they must error on the side of caution.
Ross Local Schools Superintendent Greg Young said social media has complicated relationships and stirs the pot when trying to resolve student relationships.
“Disagreements seem to go on and on,” Young said. “There used to be an ability for students to have a cooling off period, now it just keeps getting perpetuated … then other people get involved.”
Young said the district does not do any type of formal monitoring of social media, noting the “vast majority of students want a safe, drug-free environment.” At Ross, school officials often work with mental health professionals, which can mean a student’s behavior can be modified to a better outcome.
“Good discipline is striking a balance. But certainly, we do talk about good kids making poor decisions. In this day and time, there is less room for poor choices,” Young said.
Authorities and school officials say fake threats take students out of valuable classroom time, are costly, and force law enforcement off the streets. Some school districts have even brought in legal experts and law enforcement to talk about the consequences of violence, threats and misuse of social media.
In the wake of the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999, the number of cases increased in the following month to 39 cases, Clevenger said, and stayed high in the early 2000s. While the charge of inducing panic and making terrorist threats doesn’t necessarily mean a school or students were targeted, it does usually imply some type of threats, he said.
“But I can tell you the lion’s share does involved in some part school threats,” Clevenger said.
He added a spike in cases typically occurs anytime there is a high profile school related shooting incident. Reasons, Clevenger said, include possible copycats and heightened awareness by school officials and law enforcement.
In 2010, juvenile court reported 10 cases of inducting panic, 14 cases in 2011, and 13 cases in 2012. The majority of the cases involve males.
By Lauren Pack - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (MCT)
Staff Writer Jill Kelley contributed to this report.
©2014 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)
Visit the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) at www.journal-news.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services