Use of phones during school threats a safety concern

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[Note: In the paragraph concerning Melissa Latham's son's use of a cell phone, the text has been changed to clarify that the cell phone did not belong to Latham's son.]

April 27, 2007

When there's a threat of a bomb or violence at your child's school, you want to know what's going on right away. But school officials say parents panicking and wanting information right away is creating chaos and is a safety concern.

When there are school bomb threats, our phone lines at News 12 are flooded with parents wanting to know what's going on because they can't get in touch with anyone at their child's school.

But school officials say there's a safe way to get information...and they say it's not by your child calling you or by you coming to the school.

Strom Thurmond High School was back to normal today, a day after students were sent home because of a bomb threat. Three other Edgefield County schools were evacuated yesterday for the same reason.

Merriwether Middle was one of them. Melissa Lathan's son is a student there. She was at work when she got word from a friend of what happened.

She's upset her son was not allowed to call her.

"If he feels in danger, I want him to be able to call me," she said.

The cell phone her son was using was taken as he was attempting to call her.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, Melissa says she's very concerned about getting in touch with her children during an emergency.

"My son has the right to use that in an emergency," she said.

Well, not according to Assistant Principal Robert Turner. He showed us the handbook, which bans phones at school, even during the scariest of situations. He says they cause more harm than good.

"When lots of students start using cell phones at the same time, it ties up the towers and the emergency vehicles can't report," he said.

Deputy Charles Reel with the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office says phones bring an even greater danger.

"Radios and cell phones emanate R-F waves, which can set off or trigger a device, which is a very big safety concern," he said.

So, what's the best way to know what's going on?

Most schools use an automated computer program, School Messenger, to call you...but it may not be right away, and often schools won't answer the office phone until all is clear.

During yesterday's threat at Strom Thurmond High, Principal Gregory Thompson says parents calling district offices seemed was the best choice.

"We stayed in contact with the district office, and they were able to give parents information they needed," he said.

We called around today to see what procedures different schools use. Some say they use an emergency alert system. Others say the media is the best way to get info. And as we mentioned earlier, in Edgefield, calling district offices was best.

Many of the schools say parents shouldn't expect to get a call every time there is a bomb threat.

Your best bet is to call your child's school or school system to find out their procedure.

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