2016-02-18 / Opinion


A Far Cry from the Scary Spider

When your grandparents were still in school, the classroom wiseacre got everyone’s attention by deftly placing a large spider, or some other horrifying totem, on someone's chair.

These days, the spider prank seems pretty innocent. Now, school officials, parents and their children must cope with school bomb threats (thankfully, all of them to this date hoaxes) delivered via the latest technology enabling the perpetrator to use “robocall” software that is said to guarantee anonymity.

Newport and Middletown schools have already experienced far more than their share of these threats since the end of January. The result of these calls has been several major school-day disruptions including evacuations of Newport’s three public schools, lost instruction time or early dismissals, and parents justifiably concerned about the safety of their children.

As this is written, police have detained a suspect–despite the technological cloak of anonymity, identified only as a Newport high school student.

This is not simply a local occurrence. The same script has repeated itself across the U.S. in 2016. Closer to home, Massachusetts schools have been hard hit by similar hoaxes.

Experts are at the ready to advise on best practices. According to National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland, Ohio-based consulting firm, when school bomb threats occur, “The best practice, supported by federal law enforcement explosives experts, is for schools and police to assess threats rather than automatically evacuating schools.”

Another issue, the firm advises on its website, involves conducting searches following bomb threats. Such searches should be conducted “visually” without moving boxes or any other suspicious items. Rather, items that seem suspicious or out of place should be reported immediately to public safety responders.

When evacuations are needed, the firm advises that students should not be taken into parking areas “to reduce the risk of potentially exposing them to additional explosive devices.”

We believe that local school and police officials have acquitted themselves well in the face of these needless disruptions.

“All of our schools have the protocols necessary to respond to these situations,” Supt. Colleen Jermain told Newport This Week. She said drills are held at city schools to ensure that everyone in the buildings can carry out these protocols. “We’re very confident that we have all the necessary plans in place,” she said.

So far in Newport and Middletown schools, there have only been threats. We fervently hope that the threats will stop and the rest of the school year will unfold without further incident. But who knows? We also hope that parents talk to their children about these matters, and stress the importance of alerting an adult should they see or overhear something suspicious.

Meanwhile, for the school prankster, there’s always the far-less-threatening spider on the chair.

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