Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Education

Hillsborough officials announce effort to stop fake school threats

More than a dozen have been logged since classes began on Aug. 12.
Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins
Published Aug. 28
Updated Aug. 28

TAMPA — Students are posting and reposting false threats of violence in schools, and it’s not at all funny, officials said Wednesday.

Seeking to curb that behavior, leaders of Hillsborough County’s police agencies and the FBI joined school superintendent Jeff Eakins Wednesday to deliver a joint message: Think before you post.

“It’s not a joke, and there are serious consequences,” Eakins said. “We have so much important business to do every day, and we can’t be taking our resources for this.”

Officials cited differing statistics, depending on the jurisdiction.

Maj. Thomas St. John of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said in this school year alone, his agency has been called to investigate 23 school-based threats so far.

Eakins, citing a new telephone app called Fortify Florida, said there have been 14 reports in Hillsborough that required school and law enforcement officials to investigate.

“All 14 have been bogus hoaxes, or people trying to be funny,” he said.

Sheriff’s officials reported one arrest on Aug. 22 of a seventh-grader from Burns Middle School who spread a shooting threat on Snapchat. The child faces felony charges, and officials said Wednesday they will prosecute other such felonies under a new state law that followed the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County.

No one addressed the issue of why there might be a spike in false reports. But the panel of officials made the case that false threats consume resources that they cannot afford to waste.

“We’re putting our first responders at danger, we’re putting our victims at danger, and those limited resources are not being put where they need to be,” said Michael McPherson, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa field office. “We don’t know what’s a joke. We’re going to treat them all serious. If it’s a threat, we’re going to mitigate it. If it’s a hoax, there will be consequences.”

St. John and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan — who gave a similar warning in private to his son, a high school senior — urged parents and students to learn the correct protocol: Report any threat, or perceived threat, to a school employee or law enforcement officer instead of spreading the information on social medial.

“If you see something, say something,” Dugan said. “But also be careful about what you say and what you post.”

School officials said they planned to reinforce the warning with an electronic messages to parents later in the day.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Pasco County school district is considering an increase in substitute teacher pay to combat its low fill rate for the jobs.
    District officials say more competitive wages could help fill vacancies, which have been rising.
  2. JoAnne Glenn is cheered by her staff as deputy superintendent Ray Gadd and other district officials surprise her with the announcement that she is Pasco County's 2020 Principal of the Year. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    JoAnne Glenn next will be entered for the statewide honor.
  3. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning briefly blocked a critic from his social media accounts. He has since restored access to the person but says he would rather they have a conversation, “like two grown adults.” [Times (2016)]
    Kurt Browning restored his online nemesis as a Twitter follower and Facebook friend after staffers told him that blocking people was a no-no.
  4. Shawn Tye, left, applies fiberglass to a boat console as Dustin Pirko looks at Marchman Technical Education Center. Hernando’s business development manager says that in creating a technical school an effort would be made not to duplicate Marchman.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.
  6. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  7. Odessa Elementary School in Pasco County has grown to 1,126 students in fall 2020. Pasco County school district
    At 1,126 students, Odessa is larger than 10 of the district’s 16 middle schools, too.
  8. Construction workers have prepared the skeleton for what will become the music and art wing of Cypress Creek Middle School in Pasco County. Some Wesley Chapel parents are fighting the rezoning plan that would reassign their children to the school.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. The Pasco County School Board meets in August 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK
    Having won a concession relating to rising juniors, some Wesley Chapel families seek more changes to a proposed reassignment plan.
  10. A school bus travels the early morning streets. One Marion County elementary school will change its start time because some parents say they can't get their kids to school before the first bell.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement