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Terroristic Threats and Hoax Threats in our Schools

Many parent’s worst nightmare is a tragic event, such as a school shooting, happening at their child’s school. Because of this fear and the rise of school shootings, terroristic threats amongst school children has gained a lot of local, state, national and even world-wide attention. How do you know if people mean what they say or if they are just blowing off steam or joking around? The scary truth is that we, as every-day citizens and parents, cannot know. What is a terroristic (or hoax) threat? Why are students making these kinds of threats, and what do we do when we, or our students, overhear someone making a threat of any kind?

Who is making these threats?
Anyone. In schools, we see students primarily make these kinds of threats, although we have also seen instances where parents and other adults make these threats as well.

What exactly is a terroristic or hoax threat?
According to Section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code: Any type of threat of violence against a person or institution with intent to: Cause a reaction by emergency services, place a person in fear of serious bodily injury, prevent or interrupt the use of a building, facility or meeting area is considered a terroristic/hoax threat. The word “terroristic” alone sounds menacing and is not typically a word associated with school children, but that is where we must change our thinking. Students are being charged with this crime at an alarming rate and we need to educate the students in our life on this issue. The law as it is written is a bit gray and students are falling into that grayness. Below are a few examples:

• A boy playing Fortnite and using a headset to communicate with other plays. While playing the game, which is comprised of killing of other players, he says he’s going to do the same thing to the students at his school the next day
• A student posts a picture, on social media, of a handgun alerting students to not come to school the next day
• A student sending a text in a group chat saying she is going to blow up the school tomorrow, so they do not have to worry about turning in an assignment the next day

In all three of these examples, the name of the school is not mentioned, the students may or may not have real access to a weapon (they can use a picture off the internet), each of these students could later say they were just joking, yet all three of the students in these examples could get charged for making a terroristic threat. This may seem over the top and excessive however, if your child attended the school where any of these threats were made you would want to ensure their safety. It is critical for us to step into this space and talk to our students about the consequences that could stem from making a threat of this nature.

When and where are these threats being made?
These kinds of threats are made at any time of day and anywhere. We see students make threats both in person but also online. Even if a threat is not made at school or during the school day, there can be legal ramifications for making a threat.

Why do people make terroristic threats?
Often times students make these kinds of threats because they either think it is funny or as a form of defense. The bottom line here is not really why people make these threats but instead that these threats are illegal no matter the reason they are made.

Listen, we are all guilty of saying things we do not mean. If my parents meant everything they said, I would still be grounded and writing this from my childhood bedroom. The main problem is that consequences are no joke. Even if you are not arrested, you could be suspended from school, sent to alternative placement and suffer social consequences. Currently, schools have a zero-tolerance policy and therefore, at minimum school disciplinary action is inevitable.

What now?
If you or your student ever hears of someone making a threat of any kind, we highly encourage you to report that threat to authorities.

• For immediate help and emergencies call 911
• Crime Stoppers of Houston anonymous tip line 713-222-TIPS (8477)
• FBI 713-693-5000

Posted by on 27 Sep 2019