By Steve Hunley

Recently, there has been a rash of threats in our schools.  It seems like every passing day, someone has threatened to blow up a particular school or there is some other threat of serious violence.  Superintendent Jim McIntyre simply murmurs some vague reference to having “conversations” with parents and students.  My own guess is McIntyre is simply holding his breath and keeping his fingers crossed until school lets out in a few weeks.

When you have a few spare moments, Google “school threats” and then click “news.”  If your reaction is anything like my own, you’ll be stunned and horrified.  You’ll see stories about bomb threats made by robo-calls.  Twenty-two schools in Massachusetts were under bomb threat; some thirty-two schools in New Jersey were under bomb threat.  A third of students either stayed at home or were kept home by concerned parents in Iowa because of a persistent rumor someone would be shot at a middle school.  Four students were arrested by law enforcement agencies after threats were made at a rural Ohio high school.  The list, unfortunately, is almost endless.

These are not merely childish pranks and shouldn’t be treated that way, nor is merely having “conversations” with parents and students either practical or an actual solution.  Is there really any higher priority for a school system than the safety of our children?  It is expected by the public, if not taken for granted.

One aspect of our society that is truly unfortunate is our tendency to pay very little attention to much of anything until something tragic occurs, then everybody and their neighbor is standing around angrily demanding to know why something wasn’t done to prevent it in the first place.  Prevention never works well after the fact.  Those same angry people who never paid much attention in the first place are suddenly bubbling with possible solutions that could have prevented the tragedy.

Were superintendent Jim McIntyre anything even close to resembling a leader, he would ask the Board of Education to implement a policy about students making threats.  Supposedly, Knox County has a “zero tolerance” policy about fighting and violence.  Threatening violence needs to be taken very seriously.  The superintendent and Board of Education need a policy that takes such threats seriously and parents and students should be apprised there are serious consequences for anyone foolish or mean enough to make such threats.  Frankly, there’s really only one “conversation” we ought to be having with parents and students on this subject: if your child makes threats involving mayhem and serious violence to others, it’s going to hit the fan and your child will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  The idea of McIntyre’s “conversations” with parents and students is evidently to allow Mom and Dad to talk with their kids to better ascertain just who made the threats.  It doesn’t seem particularly effective to me, especially when nobody much takes it seriously.  Frequently, the kids themselves have some idea of who is making the threats and in this day of social media, texts, and the like, word gets around.  The reality is kids are more likely to talk to friends than parents about such things.  Parents who think their children act with their friends exactly as they do when their parents are present aren’t bright enough to raise a kitten, much less a child.

I don’t think it is too draconian to announce to parents and the student body at a school where there has been a bomb threat ALL extracurricular activities – – – ballgames of every variety, cheerleading practice, sporting events, fieldtrips – – – are all cancelled for the next three days until the culprit/s have been caught.  Once any culprit has been caught and adjudged to be guilty, that individual ought to be separated from his or her friends, school, and family by spending a certain amount of time in the juvenile detention facility.  If the person making the threat is already eighteen, then he or she can spend a little time at the penal farm.

Our country has seen more than enough terrible violence perpetrated by students against other students.  School systems have to prioritize safety and even then we need not relax under the illusion and presumption our children are perfectly safe.  Ours is supposed to be a country of laws and there are penalties and punishments for not obeying the law.  There should be no exemptions of any kind for making violent threats against fellow students, teachers, and administrators.  Nobody is too special or too disabled; folks need to know gender, race, religion nor point of view does not protect someone from threatening to seriously injure or kill others in our school system.  The notion of sitting a kid down and having yet another conversation about proposing to maim or kill someone is no solution to protect anybody.  Once youngsters see there are serious consequences and penalties, it might save lives.  It will certainly get the attention of both parents and students alike.  Sheriff Jimmy “J. J.” Jones has said each incident costs tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and resources.

Each threat costs the taxpayers money unnecessarily, disrupts classes and causes anxiety on the part of the community.  We may have to wait for McIntyre to collect his check and leave this summer, but eventually, hopefully, the school system will have a leader who believes in action rather than yet another stream of meaningless dialogue that passes for doing something real.