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A Roseburg Police Department vehicle parked in front of Roseburg High School in November.

{child_flags:editors_pick}Steep rise in school threats

{child_byline}SAPHARA HARRELL

The News-Review

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School threats have risen sharply following last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

In the last two months there have been five school threats in Douglas County.

A Roseburg High School student was arrested after threating violence in a note on the girl’s bathroom wall the day after the Florida shooting. Across town, a 12-year-old was arrested for writing a threat on the bathroom wall at Joseph Lane Middle School. At Fremont Middle School, a student was arrested after a rumor surfaced that they were threatening violence.

At McGovern Elementary in Winston, a student was arrested for threatening a “shootout” in writing on a bathroom wall. And a note referencing a bomb threat was found at Camas Valley High School.

From December to February there were 69 safety threats reported to the Safe Oregon tip line, a resource for students to disclose school safety threats that is run by the Oregon State Police.

The 69 threats marked an 86 percent increase from the previous quarter, according to data from Safe Oregon.

Some of the increase may be attributed to the addition of the schools signing up for the program — 940 so far — but many have credited the increased reporting to increased awareness as a result of the Parkland shooting.

“What we saw after Parkland was a big change in awareness,” said Jodi Sherwood, who manages Safe Oregon for OSP.

On Wednesday, students across the country participated in a school walkout to protest school violence, leaving class for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 victims of the Florida shooting.

Sherwood said the threats Roseburg has experienced are equivalent to what’s happening across the state and country.

She said she has talked with other states that have similar tip-lines in place like Michigan, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.

“There isn’t a state that isn’t having increases like Oregon,” Sherwood said, “We’re not on our own over here in this situation.”

The Oregon tip line is fairly new, having celebrated its one-year anniversary in January.

Reports aren’t limited to just school threats. The majority of the information the tip line receives is related to bullying and harassment. Those numbers are up too — 59 percent from the quarter before.

Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Gerry Washburn said he was recently at a meeting in Salem with 100 other superintendents.

“The question was asked, ‘How many of you have had threats since the Parkland shooting?’ and all but one of us raised our hand,” he said.

Since the shooting, the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network said it’s been tracking an average of 70 threats per day, up from 10 threats a day before the tragedy.

“Everybody’s encountering it,” Washburn said, “I think what’s really happened is some kids are frustrated and they’ve been triggering into making these threats.”

So far, all the threats in Douglas County have turned out not to be credible, but schools are forced to respond regardless.

“We can’t not take threats seriously. We just can’t,” Washburn said, “We’re placed in this really uncomfortable position of when we get a threat we have to respond to every one of them as if they are credible.”

Repeated reports of school threats can be stressful for students and teachers, especially those impacted by the Umpqua Community College shooting in 2015 in which nine people were killed, Washburn said.

“That drives the anxiety level up for students and parents and staff so it just creates a really difficult situation,” Washburn said.

To combat some of the anxiety, the school is implementing ALICE training to show students how to respond to an active-shooter event.

“We’re in that place where people know what can happen they have real experience with it. So the fear levels are enhanced,” Washburn said.

Roseburg Police Department Sgt. Gary Klopfenstein said citizens are becoming more aware and will let law enforcement know if they see threats on social media.

“People are more attentive to it,” he said.

He said Roseburg’s School Resource Officer Tyler Vancil has seen a steady increase in threats since he started more than a year ago.

“Everyone has taken it very seriously,” Klopfenstein said, “It is a crime to make a threat against a school.”

Right now, if a person makes a school threat the crime carries a misdemeanor charge. If the person is convicted, the second offense carries a felony charge.

The Safe Oregon tip line can be reached at 844-472-3367.

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Saphara Harrell can be reached at 541-957-4216 or sharrell@nrtoday.com. Or on Twitter @daisysaphara.

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Crime and Natural Resources Reporter

Saphara Harrell is the crime and natural resources reporter for The News-Review. She previously worked at The World in Coos Bay. Follow her on Twitter @daisysaphara.

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Mogie

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