North Texas Daily

North Texas schools see increased threats of violence

North Texas schools see increased threats of violence

North Texas schools see increased threats of violence
February 17
09:45 2022

Some schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are experiencing an increase in the number of fake threats received, causing repeated disruptions to the school year, according to research conducted by Ayden Runnels for the North Texas Daily.

Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, there have been 20 recorded threats to schools in the North Texas area, the most in the past four years. The Daily researched hundreds of news stories covering 33 middle and high schools in 12 DFW school districts. Consulted local sources include the Denton Record-Chronicle, Lewisville Leader and Dallas Morning News.

Since 2018, 57 threats against public schools in the area have been recorded. Thirty-six of those were confirmed by police to be fake and only seven of them involved an actual firearm being brought into a school.

“They think they can get away with it because everybody thinks the internet’s anonymous and they don’t realize how sophisticated law enforcement is in finding these things out […] thinking there’s no way someone can track them,” said Stephen Waddell, former superintendent of Lewisville Independent School District and current visiting professor at the University of North Texas.

This trend is not entirely isolated to the North Texas area, however. Over 1,000 threats against schools nationwide since August 2021 were recorded in research conducted by the K-12 School Shooting Database, 500 of which were in December alone. Forty-four percent of school and district leaders have also seen a rise in threats of violence in schools, according to EducationWeek.

“From tracking media reports of school shooting threats since 2018, there were more in the fall of 2021 than prior years,” said David Riedman, lead researcher for the K-12 School Shooting Database.

The Daily found out of the 20 threats recorded this year in North Texas, 80 percent were fake. Only one was confirmed to constitute a real threat, in which a student brought a gun to Lewisville’s Harmon High School back in September 2021.

“There are lots of different kinds of threats and school officials are left on their own to try to figure out what is real and what is a hoax without any comprehensive guidance or training for how to do it,” Riedman said. “Being too cautious harms students by causing them to miss school while missing a real threat can have deadly consequences. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Whenever a threat is reported, schools often must go on lockdown for hours at a time, only to discover there was never any real intention of harm in the first place. The most recent case of this happened last month, where two Denton ISD high schools went into lockdown for unsubstantiated threats, with three more schools in the district placed on soft lockout.

While there has been an increase in the number of threats at schools, almost none have been substantiated by law enforcement, and were thought to be caused by students’ jokes or attempts to cancel school. Some North Texas police officers are concerned students do not understand what the consequences are for this kind of prank.

“Currently officers within the School Resource Officer program have tried to work with school administrators and have informed students through assemblies the seriousness and consequences of sending fake threats to students for the purpose of causing fear within the student body,” said Sergeant Gordon Blair of the Lewisville Police Department. “These consequences could range from a misdemeanor to felony charges as well as school disciplinary actions.”

Lewisville ISD arrested three students in December after threats swept the nation due to a TikTok trend dubbing varying days between Dec. 10-17 as “national school shooting day.” Two of those students were charged with felony charges for making a terroristic threat. This was the fifth incident Lewisville ISD had seen this school year.

Denton ISD has experienced the brunt of the increase, having experienced over nine threats this school year alone and 18 over the past four years. Sixteen of these incidents were confirmed to be false threats. The average number of incidents in North Texas sits at 4.75 per district. Without Denton ISD’s numbers, the average drops to 3.5 per district.

Additionally, only three of these incidents in Denton ISD have led to arrests. This constitutes a 16.7 percent arrest rate within the district, in contrast with an average of 60 percent arrest rate among other districts in the area. Some school districts like Frisco and Mesquite have 100 percent arrest rates.

In an official statement to the Daily, the Denton Police Department denied an increase in threats.

“Denton PD has not seen an increased threat to our schools,” said an unsigned media relations email from DPD to the Daily. “All claims of threats made against Denton schools in recent months have been thoroughly investigated and confirmed as hoaxes.”

Denton High School has also received the most recorded threats, with seven in the past four years, as opposed to the average North Texas school with about 1.5 threats.

“[It] is important to remember that in Denton ISD, we cover 18 municipalities and partner with four different law enforcement agencies,” said Derrick Jackson, assistant director of communications and community relations. “As information evolves during a situation, we work with law enforcement officials to provide a measured response. We are in the education business, but we acknowledge that helping our students and staff feel safe and valued every day is extremely important.”

It is unclear what has caused the increase in threats against schools and whether it will continue at the same pace.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid these kinds of offenses will continue for as long as students or individuals continue to pass these messages along on their social media platforms as a way of being seen by the masses,” Blair said.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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