Bomb threats rise in schools

Incessant school bomb threats have terrorized Debbie Hadden's autistic daughter so much that she removed her from school.

 

Ms. Hadden recalled hugging her daughter, consoling her as she cried as a way to ease her mind. Lessia, 15, has suffered panic attacks after dozens of bomb threats at Morgan Road Middle School.

So, Ms. Hadden quit her job, began working from home and removed her daughter from school.

"It doesn't matter how much you're paid when you're sitting there worried about the safety of your daughter," she said of leaving Savannah River Site after nearly 10 years. "When I went to the school Friday to withdraw her, I had to wait because they were having their 33rd bomb threat."

Interim Superintendent James Thompson said there have been 109 bomb threats in Richmond County schools this year, but he is in talks with Sheriff Ronnie Strength on ways to deal with the problem.

Children are no longer calling schools directly, Mr. Thompson said. Instead, they are using out-of-service cell phones to call 911 and avoid being traced.

School officials are looking into buying voice-analyzing equipment and even playing the recorded voices in the media to catch the culprits, he said. The sheriff will be prosecuting them, and the school board will be disciplining them.

Board policy states that pupils will be expelled for a year and sent to the alternative school for another year, Mr. Thompson said. So far, 22 pupils have been caught this year.

In addition, Morgan Road Middle held a meeting Wednesday night to inform parents about the bomb threats, and the school board held its first meeting of a committee specifically charged with addressing discipline.

The formation of the committee comes in the wake of a spike in weapons found on campus last year, an alleged rape that occurred on campus and the surge in bomb threats.

During its first meeting, board Vice President Joe Scott called for the creation of a team of strong disciplinarians to develop an action plan to share with the school system to cut down on discipline problems. The team will report back to the committee in May.

According to The Augusta Chronicle's analysis of school board records, discipline problems were up overall last semester when compared with the previous fall semester.

Some offenses, however, were down.

Richmond County had a decline in pupils found guilty of breaking rules for drugs, weapons, sex offenses and chronic disciplinary problems, according to The Chronicle's analysis.

Ms. Hadden welcomed the school board's steps toward addressing the discipline problems, and she offered some advice of her own.

Lock up the parents, she said. That will drive the message home and encourage parents to teach their children respect.

As it is, children are out "partying" and "playing like it's field day" for an hour or so each time there's a bomb threat, Ms. Hadden said. Other times, the school isn't evacuated at all, which also concerns her.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.


BY THE NUMBERS

The number of pupils found guilty at school disciplinary tribunals was up last semester, from 355 in fall 2005 to 383. Here is a breakdown of some of the more serious infractions:

INFRACTIONFALL 2005FALL 2006
Drugs4831
Weapons4934
Major teacher assaults88
Sex offenses2421
Chronic discipline problem177

Source: The Augusta Chronicle analysis of Richmond County Board of Education records

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