How Are School Threats Investigated?
Published September 26, 2023
Over the past several weeks, Williamson County Schools and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office have investigated concerning posts, rumors and threats that were either made verbally, written while on or off school campus or made, shared or reposted on social media.
WCS wants families to know that threats made against another student, staff member or school will get an immediate response leading to school discipline and potential criminal prosecution.
“It’s important for our community to understand how potential threats are handled,” said WCS Safety and Security Director Michael Fletcher. “We’ve been talking about threats since the beginning of the school year, and I hope that by continuing to share information and educate our families, we can improve student behavior and reduce the number of potential threats being investigated by law enforcement and our school administrators.”
The district has several tools in place for students and families to report concerning behavior, rumors, etc. Students or families may directly contact their school administrator or use the tip line feature in the district's mobile app. If a parent or student learns of a potential threat after hours, the best course of action is to immediately contact your local law enforcement agency. In addition, the district uses a screening tool to monitor threatening comments made by students while on the WCS network.
“The worst action someone can take is to repost a threat or share it through text or email,” said Fletcher. “By doing so, they could also face legal consequences and school discipline for spreading that information and potentially disrupting a law enforcement investigation. We encourage students and families to always report a threat or concerning behavior to law enforcement or school administration first.”
Fletcher adds that schools investigate threats daily. That includes everything from a student uttering a threatening statement out of frustration in a classroom to an elementary student using a gun hand symbol on the playground. All threats, even those that are implied, are investigated.
When the district or law enforcement is notified of a potential threat, the WCS Threat Protocol is initiated. That means a team including the school administration, safety director, law enforcement, and assistant superintendent begins investigating the potential threat. This process takes place seven days a week, 24 hours a day, if needed. The WCS Threat Protocol flow chart can be found on our website.
What happens when a student makes a potential threat?
Law enforcement must make an assessment. They may visit a home or homes to do so. They will assess and determine:
- Was a threat made?
- Was it credible or not credible or concerning statement/post (define each)?
- What level of threat?
- What legal consequences are needed? What school consequences?
What happens after the investigation?
Consequences for Other Threats - a threat is defined as any expression of intent to harm someone. Threats can be spoken, written, emailed, or expressed in some other way.
- Elementary school consequences could include administrator/student conferences, parent conference, In-School Suspension (ISS) and/or ALC.
- Middle and high school consequences could include parent conference, ISS, ALC and/or court petition depending on the severity of the offense.
Consequences for Threats of Mass Violence - a threat that could lead to the serious bodily injury, or the death of two (2) or more persons. Threats can be spoken, written, emailed, or expressed in some other way.
- A threat of mass violence is a zero-tolerance offense. Elementary, middle and high school students are suspended for one year and students are remanded to the Alternative Learning Center, ALC.
How and when does the district communicate?
In most cases, families will receive a text, email and/or phone call from the district if a communication is necessary after an investigation. If a threat is determined by law enforcement to be credible, information will be communicated to the families affected. Sometimes, that includes the entire school, both schools on a shared campus or multiple schools.
Threats or concerning statements/posts that are found to be non-credible will be communicated to families if they have caused a disruption or disturbance during the school day. The district or school administrator may send the communication as a text, email and/or phone call. Depending on the circumstances, the information may be shared with those affected, the entire school, both schools on a shared campus or multiple schools.
In both situations, the communication will be sent in conjunction with law enforcement approval.
Other terms to know
- Non-credible - term used to share that the threat was investigated by law enforcement and found that the threat was not valid or plausible. There was found to be no planning, intent or capability to carry out the threat.
- Mass violence - any act which a reasonable person would conclude could lead to the serious bodily injury, or the death of two (2) or more persons.
- Means of communication - direct and indirect verbal, written, or electronic communications, including graffiti, pictures, diagrams, telephone calls, voice over internet protocol calls, video messages, voice mails, electronic mail, social media posts, instant messages, chat group posts, text messages, and any other recognized means of conveying information.
- School property - any school building or bus, school campus, grounds, recreational area, athletic field, or other property owned, used, or operated by any local education agency, private school board of trustees, or directors for the administration of any school.
- Serious bodily injury - bodily injury that involves:
- A substantial risk of death;
- Protracted unconsciousness;
- Extreme physical pain;
- Protracted or obvious disfigurement;
- Protracted loss or substantial impairment of a function of a bodily member, organ or mental faculty; or
- A broken bone of a child who is twelve (12) years of age or less.
We encourage all families to revisit the district’s communication from the start of the school year regarding threats.