In the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, TSA was formed to protect air travelers. Since then, people have learned to wear slip-on shoes when flying. Many also learned not to joke about “a bomb” while lining up for a flight – and many learned the hard way. We are now in a similar age related to school violence or threats. There is no such thing as a joke, a hoax, or a prank. Unfortunately, many are learning the hard way. Welcome to our new normal.
In recent weeks, the entire State of Oklahoma has been rocked by an avalanche of school threats reported to law enforcement. The increase in reports is directly related to SB 1150, an Oklahoma law that has changed how schools address and report certain issues. The law offers welcomed clarification and support, but schools and law enforcement are still learning to apply the law effectively.
Governor Fallin signed the law in May 2018, and much did not change for the 2018-19 school year. Since then, schools and law enforcement have evolved in their understanding of SB 1150, and it has changed the game for everyone. Schools have always reported and tracked harmful issues involving our children, but SB 1150 changed how we and law enforcement report such things. Here is the section of the law that has turned our school districts and police departments across the state upside-down:
An officer or employee of a school district or member of a board of education shall notify law enforcement of any verbal threat or act of threatening behavior which reasonably may have the potential to endanger students, school personnel or school property.
Schools have been addressing these issues for decades, but SB 1150’s verbiage has left well-meaning principals and police officers scratching their heads how to define “any.” Consequently, the number of reports across the state has risen significantly. Many issues that were previously handled with parents are now handled by the police. We can see and feel the impact of this change.
This has also changed the interpretation of a threat. Even a hoax or a prank is now taken more seriously than ever before. So far . . . our issues have fallen into these less serious categories. Due to the disruption that hoaxes and pranks can cause nowadays, however, law enforcement can no longer let them pass. Small children often utter “threats” that they neither understand nor have the capacity to perform. Older children often think their words are a joke or a prank. Unfortunately, we are in an age when we can no longer assume the best, especially when comments involve extreme or mass violence. As we know, many of the true tragedies in schools have been perpetrated by children who “were just kidding.”
Duncan is a special place, and this is no exception. We will get through this and be better for it. Chief Ford and the District Attorney’s office have both reached out to us about this issue, and their support has been invaluable. We hope to soon get school principals and law enforcement together to identify strategies to address this new normal in a manner that fits Duncan. This community is in good hands, and those hands are clasped together in unity.
I suspect that Duncanites will keep this all in perspective better than most communities. I am not proposing that the new law is bad or that the recent arrests across the state were unwarranted. We just have a new normal now, and we will adjust. No threat against a school or students can be tolerated anymore, even if just a hoax or a prank. Next week, I will share a little more information about how DPS addresses these issues. Please keep informing us, please stay vigilant, and please keep praying for the safety of our schools.