School Bomb Threats Take Off

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

THROOP, Pa. (AP) — At least 5,000 bomb threats jolted schools across the country in the six months after the Columbine High bloodbath, costing thousands of lost classroom hours, an education safety group says.

The National School Safety Center did not track the number of threats before the killings, but many schools reported fivefold increases afterward, said Ronald Stephens, the group's executive director.

Many educators blame students who do not know the costs or consequences of crying bomb.

``Every time you ratchet up the level of violence, it tends to redefine deviancy,'' Stephens said. ``We've transitioned from fistfights to gunfights, and Columbine introduced a new dimension called explosive devices.''

No one tracks the total number of bomb threats to the nation's schools — many agencies say real violence leaves little time to chase pranks. Some states leave the task to indivividual schools or police departments, which do not always share the information with the state or each other.

States that do track bomb threats reported significant increases after the April 20, 1999, killings in Littleton, Colo.

California had 548 school bomb threats in the 1998-99 school year, 80 percent of them after the killings, said Jean Scott, a state Education Department spokeswoman. The previous school year, California had 236 threats, she said.

An Associated Press review of Pennsylvania records shows an even larger increase. Schools in the state reported 309 threats to the state Emergency Management Agency in the month after Columbine, up from 60 between Jan. 1, 1996, and the day before the killings, the AP's computer-assisted analysis found.

The Pennsylvania Education Department, which also tracks bomb threats, reported more threats before Columbine than PEMA did: 183 from July 1, 1995, to June 30, 1998. The department has no newer numbers for comparison.

As the 1999-2000 school year draws to a close, the number of threats in Pennsylvania seems to be tapering off. PEMA reported 60 between September and April 26, the latest date for which information is available.

Last year's rash was costly in both dollars and hours. Thirteen of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts during the 1998-99 school year could not provide the 180 days of class required by state law because they lost too many days to bomb threats or other violence.

The department granted all 13 an exemption, but Pennsylvania students have never before lost so much time to threats, spokesman Al Bowman said.

No one has calculated the total dollars lost, but some schools have tracked their own. Authorities at Mid Valley School District near Scranton said they lost $45,000 in salaries and cafeteria food for sending home students and teachers because of an April 28, 1999, note saying the school would go ``boom.''

That does not include the expenses and hours of 25 volunteer firefighters, a state trooper and two police officers who answered the call.

``You're putting a lot of people in danger,'' said Throop police Chief Neil Furioso, one of the police officers who arrived at the campus. ``Our volunteers are rushing to an unfounded thing. Anything could happen.''

The author of the ``boom'' note, a 17-year-old girl who was a junior at Mid Valley, was expelled and enrolled in an alternative education program. She also spent three days in jail and served six months of probation.

The girl was caught when she bragged to friends that school would be canceled on the day of the threat. They turned her in.