SAFE SCHOOLS

Safe Schools: Several Utah districts see increase in threats after Florida shooting

Mar 23, 2018, 5:00 PM | Updated: 9:33 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, several Wasatch Front school districts saw an uptick in the number of school threats they had to investigate.

No district may have seen a larger increase in reported threats than Granite School District.

“What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is almost equal to what we’ve seen up unto this point in the year,” district spokesman Ben Horsley said. “There are a handful of us here at the district level that are spending at least 50 percent of our time focused on the next one that has just come about or the new one.”

Horsley said district workers have spent hundreds of man hours investigating those threats.

“We take every threat seriously—we’ve actually had four prosecutions of students actually making a threat,” Horsley said. “In every one of those instances, it was considered a joke. It’s not funny to us.”

Horsley said none of the threats investigated this school year—after Parkland or before—proved to be credible.

It’s not just Granite that has seen a difference.

Weber, Ogden, Davis, Jordan, Canyons, Alpine and Nebo all acknowledged some sort of increase in school threats and investigations since Parkland.

While school district officials chalked some of the difference up to copycats, they said they believed an increase in investigations was more often due to hypervigilance in the wake of the Florida shooting.

“Safety is more on the minds of students, parents, employees,” said Ogden School District spokesman Jer Bates. “If the result means not having another incident like that ever again, I’ll gladly have more people be vigilant.”

Psychological Effect

2018 already has brought 17 school shootings.

Threats make headlines every day.

Horsley said many parents and students have been uneasy.

“We’re seeing so much anxiety about coming to school—not only from the kids themselves, but more often from the parents,” Horsley said. “I think frankly, a lot of this is getting overblown to the extent where it’s causing a lot of damage emotionally to our kids and to our society as a whole.”

Heidi Vawdrey, a parent from Herriman, who also consults students on anxiety and depression in her job as a nurse practitioner, said she sees the effect on kids as well.

“I have definitely seen an increase in the number of anxious kids that I see in clinic and that I talk to when I do my outreach,” Vawdrey said. “It’s a cumulative effect. I don’t think you can point to one thing and say ‘this one school shooting triggered a whole generation of kids to be more anxious.’ When you have event after event after event and then the social media fallout of that—which is very unpredictable and often negative and kind of blown up disproportionately—then you see this low-grade, cumulative anxiety level get higher and higher to where it becomes maladaptive, and people cannot figure out how to come back down off of that baseline high level down to a normal level.”

Vawdrey said she has talked regularly with her own children about school threats and violence.

“I feel like talking about is a good idea, because then you at least know what’s going on,” said Rachel Vawdrey, 14, a student at Fort Herriman Middle School. “I don’t feel like it should be excessively discussed. If you talk about it all the time, then you get all hyped up for it and you’re all too ready for something to happen.

Heidi Vawdrey recommended meditation and meditation apps to help those who are stressed.

She said, however, that a little anxiety is natural and healthy—as is vigilance.

“The probability that you’re going to get shot at school or have harm come to you is very, very low,” Vawdrey said. “We discuss it, we discuss emotions and feelings, and then we move on.”

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Safe Schools: Several Utah districts see increase in threats after Florida shooting