In the wake of two high-profile social media threats in the Superior School District, administrators say educators, students and parents are the first line of defense.
Most recently, a threat against Superior Middle School was posted online Jan. 12. The first incident was a rumored threat to Superior High School in November. In both cases, the Superior Police Department investigated and found the threats were not credible.
“We can’t do this alone,” said District Administrator Amy Starzecki. “We depend on our community. We depend on our students to keep our schools safe.”
However, even threats that are deemed unfounded cause stress on the community, she said.
“It creates anxiety for parents and students when these threats happen, and that’s why we have some people who choose to keep their kids home,” Starzecki said. “Kids are missing school and they’re missing instruction when they stay home, which is a significant disruption.”
When a student makes any sort of threatening statement, in writing or in social media, it can be considered a terroristic threat, punishable by suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution, Starzecki said.
Even so, students should not be worried about getting their friends or classmates in trouble if they feel someone is going to hurt themselves or others, officials said.
Officer Michael Kendall, elementary school liaison for the Superior Police Department, said police sometimes receive information about possible threats third-, fourth- or fifth-hand because the students who initially heard the information hesitate to come forward.
“Sometimes the people who heard the immediate one are like ‘I don’t want to get my friend in trouble,’” he said. “You’re not getting anybody in trouble; you’re keeping somebody safe.”
Furthermore, police find out as much information as they can when a threat is made.
“Context is an important part of it — how and where the threat was made, the specificity, the capability. Making a threat is different from posing a threat,” Kendall said.
Officials take threats to student safety seriously, Starzecki said.
“If we really felt like there was a safety issue, we would not have school, and so I need our parents to trust that when we say that the situation is taken care of and resolved that it is the case,” she said.
Threats to schools run the gamut, with child custody issues being the most common concern at the elementary school level.
Other threats Kendall has worked through included domestic violence cases; a traffic stop near Northern Lights Elementary School where the driver ran away from police; and a response to protests at the Enbridge building near Great Lakes Elementary School.
The school district has spent years upgrading security at its buildings.
About $6 million was earmarked for building improvements, including secure entrances and dual-entry systems, as part of the successful 2016 referendum.
The district also received $421,287 through a state School Safety Grant following the Wisconsin Legislature’s passage of Act 143, which created the Office of School Safety in 2017. The money went toward physical upgrades like improved communications systems, security cameras and panic lockdown buttons, as well as staff training for lockdown procedures, trauma-informed schools and adolescent mental health, said Bobby Matherly, the school district's director of building and grounds.
Three liaison officers — one at the high school, one at the middle school, one for the district’s elementary schools — provide a steady police presence, Kendall said, and patrol officers make it a point to drop by schools as their schedule permits, allowing them to get to know the school layout and staff. Schools drill for safety threats just like they do for a fire or tornado.
“I think we’re in a much better spot now to respond than we were 20 years ago,” Kendall said. “The police, the fire (department), there’s a lot more training and understanding of these situations.”
School Safety Grant upgrades, round one and two: $421,287 total
Security film at entryways. Window film makes it more difficult for intruders to break the glass to gain entry, buying valuable time for first responders to arrive.
ALICE training for staff.
Emergency responder VHF radio repeaters. Improved communications for first responders when they are inside district buildings.
Panic lockdown buttons. Administrative offices at each school can press a button to lock all doors so only key personnel and emergency responders can access the building.
Security camera system monitors. Larger, higher quality monitors at the front desk area of each building enable staff to see live footage of multiple security cameras at the same time.
Adolescent mental health training for staff.
Centralized DVR server to store camera footage for at least 30 days.
Trauma-Informed Schools training for staff.