September 26, 2006
Bomb threats at school can be scary for students, and evacuations can cost valuable class time.
That's why Columbia County is cracking down on anyone who plans to put the schools in danger.
Administrators and teachers have to keep thousands of students calm for hours during every bomb threat, and that time adds up. The nearly 20 evacuations in the past year have caused some classes to fall behind.
From now on, the policy says one strike and you're out.
Explosives at school can put every student in harm's way. That's why bomb threats can equal jail time.
The new policy is a relief for Susan Perfect, mother of two. Susan found herself in the middle of a bomb threat while she was visiting her child's school.
"I was terrified," she told News 12. "I have to tell you I was terrified. I called my husband and said, 'Help!'"
It can be terrifying for the students as well.
Principal Don Putnam says they have to react quickly to move the entire school out of harm's way in just a few minutes...and the challenge doesn't end there.
"You've got to be able to give that group water and shade, and there are no bathrooms available oftentimes...so it's a serious, serious offense," he said.
Keeping the crowd calm is another challenge.
"They sit down, and we'll sometimes play games and think of ways to occupy them so they don't have to think about it," said 7th grade teacher Melinda Osment.
But Melinda says the hours they spend during the evacuation is time they should be learning.
Several bomb threats in a year can cost students several days' worth of class time...and they can cost parents like Susan several nights of sleep.
"It's just not fair. They just can't keep doing that," she said. "The kids who are doing that need to be prosecuted."
Prosecution and expulsion are two ways the school board plans keep threats away and keep the classroom a safe place to learn.
The new policy goes into effect this week.
The old policy called for short-term suspension on the first two offenses, and possible expulsion on the third.
With the new policy, students can be expelled on the first offense.
School officials will also immediately ask law enforcement to prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law, which means a fine of at least $1000 and 1 to 5 years in jail.