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How Does EASD Deal With Threats

Recent tragedies at schools in Pennsylvania and other states have heightened everyone’s concern for the safety of students and staff. The Elizabethtown Area School District wants to assure parents and guardians that it always takes any type of threat seriously and has the full cooperation of our local police departments. That policy will not change. To help parents, guardians, and students better understand how we respond to threats, the District has prepared the following Frequently Asked Questions document as it relates to threat response. This document addresses the District’s response to a threat at as specific of a level as possible, while still feeling comfortable that we are not jeopardizing school safety by detailing our response actions. Keep in mind each threat is treated on its individual merits and while the answers to the questions below operate as a general roadmap for the District, it is impossible to share all the actions steps the District would take in the event it receives a threat.

Does EASD always involve local law enforcement when a threat is received?

YES. Per our Safe Schools Plan, the District IMMEDIATELY contacts local law enforcement. A threat assessment and criminal investigation are conducted by the police department(s) that has/have jurisdiction for the school(s) involved in the threat. The threat assessment is conducted immediately and used to determine whether or not the threat posses a danger to the school district as whole, an individual school, a specific class, an individual, etc. The District remains in constant contact with the investigating law enforcement agency during the threat assessment and cooperates fully with their investigation. The investigation is also used to determine whether or not the threat warrants criminal charges, which is at the discretion of law enforcement and the district attorney. The disruption to the learning environment caused by a threat can be significant. As such, the District and local law enforcement take threats seriously and pursue prosecution even when such threats were intended as pranks. In many instances when a threat is made, criminal charges are filed against the alleged perpetrator even if the threat assessment concluded no risk to the school district (i.e. pranks). As such, the filing of criminal charges should not be misconstrued as the District was at risk of school violence or the District compromised student safety. It could simply mean the alleged perpetrator broke the law.

Does the EASD investigate the threat in addition to local law enforcement?

YES. In addition to the criminal investigation, the District conducts its own investigation of any threat received. The purpose of the District investigation is to further ensure student safety, gather facts so appropriate disciplinary action can be taken in the event it is warranted, and to help deescalate the situation with the involved individuals. In some instances, the District may discipline the alleged perpetrator for school board policy violations even if criminal charges are not filed.

If law enforcement is unable to discredit the threat through its threat assessment process, what action would the school district take?

The District would take immediate and decisive action to protect the safety of our students, faculty, and staff including cancelling school until the threat issue is resolved. Other actions may include but are not limited to issuing a lockdown, shelter-in-place order, dismissing students early, and/or cancelling afterschool events. Keep in mind the safety of our students is always our top priority and we will always err on the side of caution in the event we are unable to discredit the threat.

Why doesn’t the District disclose the nature of the threat?

For numerous reasons the District does not provide more specificity to the nature of the threat. Those reasons are as follows:

  • Alleviating disruptions to the learning environment by creating unnecessary anxiety for students.
  • Avoiding copycat-like threats and/or recycling of the same threat for several days after the initial threat.
  • Allowing the concurrent investigations (EASD and law enforcement) to continue without jeopardizing the findings.
  • Ensuring rights of alleged perpetrator are not violated in the event the threat was unsubstantiated.

The District fully understands the desire for more information to be released on a threat received by the District including its nature, the name of alleged perpetrator, intended targets, timing, etc. However, to help ensure the safety of our students, be sensitive to any individuals involved in the threat incident, and preserve the authenticity of the threat assessment process, the District will only share basic information about the threat. This should not be misinterpreted that the District is not taking the threat seriously or has concealed information.

What does “appropriate disciplinary” action mean?

When a violation to school board policy 218.2 – terroristic threats occurs, in almost all cases the student is suspended outside of school pending the findings of the school district investigation. Depending on the nature of the threat, grade level of the student making the threat, and other mitigating factors, a student who violates school board policy 218.2 typically faces a prolonged out-of-school suspension, expulsion from the District, or placement at an educational facility outside of the school district. For reasons related to confidentiality, the District is unable to share details of the exact discipline meted out.

Will local law enforcement increase their presence at or around a school after a threat is received?

YES. The District has an outstanding partnership with our local police departments (Elizabethtown Borough, Northwest Regional, and Susquehanna Regional). Depending on the timing, nature of the threat, and threat assessment findings, local law enforcement will increase its presence at or around a school campus. That presence may not always be obvious, as law enforcement will try to be as discreet as possible as to not disrupt the school learning environment or create unnecessary anxiety. However, rest assured if the nature of the threat warrants an expanded and visible police presence at a school, the District and local law enforcement would not hesitate to do so.

When a threat is made, how does the District determine when and to whom it should send information?

The District has made it a practice to be as transparent and timely as possible with its communications when dealing with a threat. Information is typically sent using the District’s automated messaging system and is distributed via phone, email, and text message to the parents/guardians of the affected school and in many instances across the entire district. The timing of the release of information is contingent on several factors including when the threat is received, the threat assessment findings, and the status of the investigations. Given the nature and sensitivity of the information, it is the District practice to share information with parents/guardians directly through the automated messaging system and ask that they speak with their child. This places accurate and factual information in the hands of the adults and helps to avoid rumors and the spreading of misinformation. However, when applicable, school administration might share information with students directly at the school. It is also posted to the District website and social media pages. The District makes every attempt to be as timely as possible in its release of information. Typically information is shared the same day the threat is received. However, in some instances the District works with law enforcement to allow them to continue with their investigation before releasing information as to not compromise their effort.

How can parents/guardians help when a threat is received and publicized by the District?

The District encourages parents to talk with their children about the seriousness of threats and the importance of reporting suspicious activities, threats, or disturbing information to a trusted adult. The District uses the Anonymous Alert* platform to help students, parents, guardians, and community members share information with local law enforcement. The District encourages students, parents, guardians, and community members to report threats discovered on social networking sites like Facebook or YouTube to help prevent a possible tragedy. Do not assume the District has been made aware of the threat. Include as many details as possible so the threat can be assessed and investigated. For urgent matters or emergency situations, please call 911 and speak to a trained dispatcher.

In addition, please make your child aware that law enforcement agencies take threats seriously and pursue prosecution even when such incidents are intended as pranks. Please make sure your child is aware of these ramifications and that he or she understands hoaxes related to campus safety will not be tolerated.