Officials at Schenectady Central Park K-8 School have our sympathy, trying to figure out how to deal with a series of idle gun threats that began this fall. Still, it seems that the one last Monday, in which students were sent home without being allowed to access their lockers, could have been handled differently.
The latest threat of its type, of a gun in an unspecified locker, was discovered written on a bathroom wall five minutes before the close of school. Officials called police, but there wasn’t enough time to search every locker, so the kids got sent home without being able to collect their belongings before leaving. That included coats on an afternoon that never made it out of the mid-40s — perhaps not cold enough to be a health threat, but certainly enough to cause discomfort.
Of greater concern, it also included things like students’ house keys, without which many were unable to get inside their houses; cellphones, without which they were unable to alert their parents; and in at least one student’s case, an asthma inhaler. Understandably, parents were displeased.
The district’s new superintendent, Laurence Spring, who has enough trouble on his hands trying to get Schenectady schoolkids up to grade academically, acknowledges that kids shouldn’t be sent home without their stuff. That’s especially true now, with winter bearing down. But what’s an administrator to do with a potentially life-endangering threat? As Spring said in Friday’s Gazette, you can’t assume every one is fake. On the other hand, there have been enough false alarms of this sort within a short time frame that some assumptions can probably be made.
While it’s hard to argue with school officials who want to err on the side of caution in a situation like that, there are still steps they can take to minimize the inconvenience and problems they created last week. For starters, they should at least offer anyone who wants to wait around to collect their stuff the opportunity to do so; and get staff, or police, to check their lockers first. They should also call parents on the telephone to alert them. (Perhaps the school can use automatic phone dialers to do this quickly.) Posting an alert on the district’s website is not sufficient; who would think to look there?)
As for dealing with the problem on the supply side, school officials should definitely bring in police to throw a scare into the culprit(s) (who have to have already realized how powerful they are), who need to be told in no uncertain terms that what they’re doing is much more serious than a prank. Officials should then follow up their “riot act” presentation with discreet efforts to persuade students, individually or in small groups, to ID the miscreant. It’s hard to believe that he or she has been operating in a total vacuum. Someone must have seen or heard something.