School sys­tem un­der fire af­ter false bomb threat

Par­ents use Face­book to voice con­cern over slow re­sponse

The Covington News - - Front Page - AM­BER PITTMAN Staff Re­porter

Rocky Plains El­e­men­tary School may have been cleared af­ter a prank call warned the school of a bomb in the build­ing, but the New­ton County School Sys­tem is un­der fire from sev­eral par­ents who are fu­ri­ous they had to learn of the threat through Face­book.

The call came in to the school around 11:30 a.m., and school of­fi­cials im­me­di­ately called 911. New- ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and New­ton County Fire re­sponded and all 800 chil­dren were evac­u­ated from the school for roughly an hour while it was searched by au­thor­i­ties. Af­ter the build­ing was cleared, the stu­dents were brought back in.

A school mes­sen­ger call went out around 1:45 p.m.

“Where is the call­ing tree when you need it?” Com­mented Dusty Wheeler Hon­ey­cutt on The News’

Face­book story. “Ap­par­ently New­ton County can call by house at 9 o’clock p.m. ev­ery night with unim­por­tant up­date on the school, but I had to find out about a bomb threat to my chil­dren by Face­book?”

And par­ent An­drea Cum­mings said, “I feel that the dis­trict who was com­pletely safe in their build­ing should have alerted par­ents as soon as our chil­dren were con­sid­ered in dan­ger...i un­der­stand Rocky Plains was busy get­ting our chil­dren to safety but no ex­cuse for the dis­trict to have not stepped in. This sup­pos­edly hap­pened around 11-11:15 and we just got no­ti­fi­ca­tion calls at 1:45. UN­AC­CEPT­ABLE!”

Davis-viniard ex­plained that a school mes­sen­ger call takes not only a phone, but a com­puter as well, and that it takes roughly 20 min­utes to get one set up and sent, but that par­ents were no­ti­fied as quickly as pos­si­ble given the sit­u­a­tion.

“Our goal in any cri­sis sit­u­a­tion is to pro­vide ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble to par­ents; how­ever, stu­dents will al­ways come first. In this sit­u­a­tion, we had to evac­u­ate a build­ing so ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers were busy over­see­ing that and en­sur­ing the safety of the chil­dren. A call couldn’t be made at the school be­cause a com­puter is needed to make school mes­sen­ger calls and ev­ery­one was out­side the build­ing due to the bomb threat. Be­cause it hap­pened dur­ing lunch, peo­ple were also out of the build­ing at the cen­tral of­fice. I was no­ti­fied that some­one was needed to make a school mes­sen­ger call so I came back to the of­fice. It can take 15-20 min­utes to do a school mes- sen­ger call be­cause you have to write your script, log in, se­lect the type of call, the re­cip­i­ents, have the com­puter call you and then record and fi­nal­ize the op­tions for the call. Once I got all of the in­for­ma­tion from the school a call was recorded and placed. In­for­ma­tion was also given to the me­dia at the same time as the me­dia is also a source of pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion quickly. In this case they had the ca­pa­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing it faster than the call could even be es­tab­lished.

“In a nutshell, we will al­ways place stu­dent safety first and fore­most. We will do ev­ery­thing in our power to no­tify par­ents as quickly as pos­si­ble as soon as we have ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion. It is im­pos­si­ble for us to call the ex­act minute a cri­sis has hap­pened as the first thing we have to do is deal with the cri­sis.”

In re­sponse to a sim­i­lar ex­pla­na­tion by Davis-vin- iard on the Face­book con­ver­sa­tion, par­ent Destiny Van­deweghe said, “Mrs. Viniard, no of­fense to you per­son­ally, but some of those teach­ers had cell phones, and I’m sure the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion knew about this im­me­di­ately. I knew what was go­ing on be­fore I left the school with my daugh­ter. Yes, they got the kids out safely and quickly, but what if it wasn’t a prank and the school ac­tu­ally blew up? Would they have waited till it was clear to put out the call to par­ents?”

Ac­cord­ing to NCSO 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell, in­ves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into the call and who made it. Phoning in a bomb threat to a school is a felony and the caller can be charged with ter­ror­is­tic threats and dis­rup­tion of a school. Any­one with in­for­ma­tion is asked to con­tact the NCSO at (678) 625-1400 or on­line at www.new­ton­sh­er­if­fga. org. All tips can be given anony­mously.

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