Use of phones during school threats a safety concern

By: Jonathan Martin Email
By: Jonathan Martin Email

[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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  • by Jonathan Martin Location: News 12 on May 1, 2007 at 10:13 AM
    Melissa,

    Thank you for your response to my story. After reviewing the story that aired, I do not believe it was misleading or inaccurate.

    In the interview you told me you were "mad" that the cell phone your son was using was taken while he was attempting to call you Thursday. You also said "If he feels in danger, I want him to be able to call me." and you also said "My son has the right to use that in an emergency." The statement "he has a right" conflicts with what Merriwether Middle School officials tell us. They say students are not allowed to use or carry cell phones, emergency or not. The purpose of the story was not to portray you or your son in a negative or rebellious light, rather to inform parents who have similar concerns about getting information during an emergency. As you know, unfortunately in television news, we have just over a minute to tell a news story and often a large portion of what you say is edited. However, I do not feel like we put a "twist" on the story. As for your concern about your son not owning a cell phone, you did say a phone was taken from him and you also said the phone may belong to his friend, so if I said "his" phone instead of "his friend's" phone, I do apologize. Again, I appreciate your concerns, if you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me. I would also be glad to provide you with the full script and/or the full interview.

    Thank you,

    Jonathan Martin, Reporter
    WRDW News 12, Augusta
    (803) 278-3111

  • by MELISSA LATHAN Location: AUGUSTA on May 1, 2007 at 06:30 AM
    I WAS THE PARENT INTERVIEWD ON FRIDAY BY JONATHON AND I WAS HIGHLY DISAPPOINTED WHEN I SAW HOW IT WAS REPORTED. FIRST OF ALL, MY SON DID NOT HAVE A CELL PHONE SO THEREFORE IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN TAKEN AWAY. SECONDLY, I SAID A LOT MORE ABOUT RESPECTING THE SCHOOL BANNING CELL PHONES FROM CHILDREN THAT, OF COURSE WAS EDITED OUT. NOW, I SEE FOR MYSELF FIRST HAND THE TWIST YOU PUT TO MAKE SOMETHING MORE OF WHAT WAS REALLY SAID.
  • by dq Location: waynesboro on Apr 29, 2007 at 05:13 PM
    Burke county high had a bomb threat, i guess last week.. The parents were never told what happened.. I still don't know..but the next day our kids went through metal dect.(duh) this should have taken place everyday. My child had her phone and yes she texted me. when you have your child standing outside for 2 hours a parent should know whats goind on. The schools should send out something to say what went on.. Im still lost..ps. the next day the bomb sniffing dogs were back and they arrested a kid.. or so this is what is going around.. It would be nice to know what went on.. we are sending our kids to school here..
  • by Marie Location: North Augusta on Apr 28, 2007 at 11:15 PM
    As a parent of one of the kids in Merriwether schools, it is understandable about the cell phone issue but there have been NUMEROUS threats over the last 2 weeks and a lot of the parents feel that too much information has been kept from us and on Thursday when I asked 2 or 3 officers what had happened, none of them answered me. My child is in that school and I have a right to know what is happening when I'm called to come pick him up. He has stood outside for HOURS in the last 2 weeks and when the school sent letters home to the parents about the situation... as I said before, there were many VERY important details that were withheld from us. The parents have the right to decide if their child is in danger or not... not the school. If a direct threat is issued that includes my child (which one threat did specifically threaten the entire student body at the Elementary school) then I have a right to be informed about that threat. I was not informed, nor were other parents and that is I'm sure, a violation of laws and parental rights. And it is most certainly not acceptable to keep that from us.
  • by Student on Apr 27, 2007 at 08:57 PM
    I am a student at Strom Thurmond High School. Thursday was scary for many students, and some students were afraid to come to school Friday. I feel the school did an excellent job keeping us safe.
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