Threats lead school to take strict action

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: June 05. 2007 5:00AM PST

REDMOND – After a string of bomb threats in recent months, administrators at Redmond’s Elton Gregory Middle School have put in place what the principal called “drastic” rules designed to curb the disruptive activities.

The school has received four bomb threats this spring, Principal Mike McIntosh said, all of which led officials to evacuate the building. The first threat was in March and the most recent came May 21.

Law enforcement officials did not find any explosive devices after searching the school, McIntosh said. He added that three of the incidents are still being investigated.

The threats were written on walls or toilet paper in the school’s bathrooms. The incidents have prompted McIntosh to impose a strict new set of rules concerning hall passes and tardiness.

Administrators are now sending home any student who is late to class during the day. Students are also not allowed to be in the halls by themselves during class time, so some parents have been volunteering at the school to escort students to the bathroom, nurse’s office and other destinations.

“We were having a difficult time with the bomb threats, obviously, and believed that those were being written during class time,” McIntosh said. “So (one way) to address that in my mind in a very serious fashion was to get kids to class on time so they couldn’t hang out in the bathroom and leave me a nasty note after the tardy bell.”

McIntosh said the new regulations started May 22, the day after the last threat. Since then, two or three parent volunteers have been helping out every school day.

“To get out of class presently you need to call the office and we send an adult to retrieve you and take you to your desired destination and return you to class in an expeditious way,” McIntosh said.

The changes, McIntosh said, have raised the ire of some parents, who have had to pick their children up during the day because of lateness to class. As of Friday, the school had sent home 60 students who had violated the new rule, out of a total school population of about 740.

“The tardiness policy is absolutely over the top in many people’s estimation, but I still think there’s 700-plus that support us,” he said. “I would have to say that we get one or so parents a day that are frustrated of having to come pick up their child, that’s the honest truth of it. The rest of them understand what we’re trying to do, and the reason we’re doing it is to make this a safer, happier, well-organized place, so I get at the same time eight or nine thank yous (a day).”

He added that he and the school’s vice principal have driven a few students home if their parents did not have a car available, but most parents have picked their children up at school.

Kelly Dehiya, who has two children attending Elton Gregory and volunteers in the school, said she thinks the rules are “probably a little harsh.”

“But again, if it’s what it takes to keep the students safe, then that’s what needs to be done,” Dehiya said. “I feel that the kids have plenty of time in between classes to get to where they need to be, so I don’t really feel that they should be tardy.”

She added that the bomb threats have been frustrating and annoying for students as well as parents and administrators.

“It’s kids basically trying to get out of school early, and the more fake ones we get, if a real one comes up it may not be taken as seriously,” she said. “(My children) feel (the new rules) are too strict, but they’re kids. With the kids that I escort (in the halls), the majority of them have said that they’re more annoyed that one person or two people — whoever is writing the bomb threats — has ruined it for the rest of the kids at school.”

McIntosh said that he has sent two letters home to parents about the threats and the new policies. He also held a schoolwide assembly and communicated with students over the public address system.

“The kids come in two flavors, obviously the compliant ones, and I’d say (that’s) 95 percent of them, and then there are those that are using the system — they’re being tardy on purpose because they want to be kicked out,” he said. “And then there are those that were just tardy by a second or two — they were trying (to be on time) and they’re caught in their tracks.”

Obsidian Middle School in Redmond has also had problems with bomb threats this school year. A 12-year-old male Obsidian student was arrested last October for allegedly writing a bomb threat on a bathroom wall, and a 13-year-old female student was arrested the following month for similar activities. Obsidian Principal Joe Beck could not be reached for comment.

Regulations as restrictive as those now in place at Elton Gregory do not appear to be common in other school districts. Matt Shelby, the public information officer for the Portland Public Schools, said he is not aware of any schools in the Portland system with similar rules. Overall, he said, Portland has not seen many serious threats this school year.

“I know that some schools have hall passes and hall monitors and campus security and that type of thing, but we haven’t had to resort to (rules like those at Elton Gregory) because we haven’t had, especially at the middle school level, the real concerns with threats,” Shelby said. “We do take it very seriously, though, when a student does make a threat like that and really follow it that way, but as far as the preventative stuff — really cracking down on all kids in the halls and passing time — we haven’t had to do that.”

Shelby added that only one school in the district had to be locked down this year, after some high school students thought a classmate had a gun with him. Officials did not evacuate any schools.

“Any time we have a threat, especially if it’s a credible or an imminent threat — you know, something more than just somebody found something written on the bathroom wall — if there’s some truth behind it, we deal with what we call our SROs, our school resource officers, and get involved with that and they investigate,” Shelby said.

McIntosh said that he thinks the new rules have been working well so far; the school has not had any new bomb threats since they were implemented. He added that he plans to continue with the same policy in the next school year.

“The casual disturbance of kids saying, ‘I gotta go to the bathroom’ or ‘I need a drink’ or ‘I need a pencil,’ those kinds of excuses are no longer necessary because the kids are on time and prepared, which sounds like a novel idea in the world of education,” he said. “We didn’t find any (bombs), and yet in this day and age, I’m not willing to take a chance that they’re not, either. I’m going to take it seriously and a bomb threat is exactly that — someone wants to interrupt the lives of the rest of us, and that’s frustrating and the disruption is difficult to make up.”

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