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Threats unfounded at Harford County Schools

Police say social media posts fueled by rumors
Posted at 10:40 AM, Feb 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-21 18:21:48-05

"Some of the students send the information out over and over again,” said Brooks, “Part of the challenge is when the information is reposted sometimes additional information is added to the post.  Sometimes students at other schools then inject their own school into the same identical post that originated."

"I think some individuals, some kids in some cases, added their school to the thread in an attempt to get a day off school,” said Simpson, “but that does not negate the fact that we will take all of these serious and we will vet them to the extreme when necessary, and we don't want anyone to think twice about notifying us about a threat that involves our school or some of our students."
    

In response to all of the threats made, officials are asking parents to talk to their kids about using social media in a responsible way. The school system posted a letter to parents on Facebook and also posted a different letter on their websites. 

With images from the South Florida school shooting and the discovery of a student in nearby Montgomery County with a virtual arsenal of weapons, we could hardly be more aware of any threats to our schools.

"There is some heightened anxiety throughout the entire country, to include members of Harford County and our community," said Donoven Brooks, Chief of Safety & Security for Harford County Public Schools.
    
Which certainly set the stage for some online panic late Tuesday when social media posts pointed to a potential threat at Harford Technical High School awaiting students on Wednesday.
    
In a matter of minutes, hundreds of calls and Facebook posts flooded the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"We were pretty confident about 11:30 last night once we finally contacted the individual that was named as the originator that there was no threat,” said Major John Simpson, “He never made a threat.  It was some words that people attributed to him that were not true."
    
While the original threat proved to be baseless, it had already fueled a wildfire of speculation on line that soon suggested the threat involved Bel Air High School and two others.

In this case, investigators do not believe anyone meant to deceive their fellow students, so it doesn't appear anyone will face charges, but they do ask that people report threats directly to their schools or the police, rather than posting their suspicions online.

Dear Harford County Public Schools Community,

I know we are all devastated by the rash of school shootings, the most recent being the horrific act that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  These events cause us to reflect on our practices in Harford County Public Schools (HCPS). We pray that nothing like this ever occurs in our own community. Sadly, we have learned from national incidents that no school or school system can guarantee 100 percent safety of students and staff 100 percent of the time, but I want to reassure our community that safety is our number one priority. We take deliberate and intentional measures to take care of our children by maintaining safe and secure learning environments.

Each Harford County public school follows a critical incident plan which has been developed, vetted and approved by our Office of Safety and Security. The plans are well known and practiced by administrators, staff and students in the building, and provide guidelines for crisis response and prevention. 

It is our expectation that the general safety and security practices listed below are followed by all stakeholders who work in or visit our schools:

All exterior doors are to remain locked throughout the school day;

Access to buildings is controlled. Visitors must enter the school by going through the front office, provide identification, sign in, and wear a visitor badge during their time in the building;  

Throughout the year we practice a variety of critical incident drills. You can view the “Evacuation Drills and Fire Safety” Policy via the “HCPS Procedures & Board Policies” button on our homepage, www.hcps.org;

Our School Resource Officer (SRO) program works collaboratively with our Office of Safety and Security on a daily basis. 

There are many other aspects of our overall security program that are not seen by the general public, but which go a long way in helping make our buildings secure. We are not at liberty to discuss these aspects because they involve information we do not want to share with potential perpetrators.

We work very closely with the Harford County Sheriff’s Department and municipal law enforcement agencies to help keep schools safe and secure. We are truly grateful for the partnerships with our local law enforcement agencies.

Please be advised that we are conducting a full review of our safety and security plans as well as our training to ensure we are maximizing our efforts to prevent a tragedy. 

Remember, one of our greatest resources is you. Please have conversations at home and at  work to help us secure our schools. Please provide information about issues that may be brewing in your school or your community and continue to be alert and attentive students, staff and parents/guardians. We cannot know everything and we rely on you to partner with us in our efforts to keep our schools safe. 

If you see something, say something.

Sincerely,

Barbara P. Canavan

Superintendent, Harford County Public Schools

But Harford County is not the only school district having troubles, all Central York schools in Pennsylvania have closed following a "very disturbing threat" made towards middle and elementary schools. 

According to the ABC station in Harrisburg, Springettsbury Township Police looked into the threat and recommended that all schools close on Wednesday. A task force has found several persons of interest.