School leaders address local
bomb threats|Officials take steps to educate parents about consequences

Published 11:43 am Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Contributing Writer

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said he and other school leaders are tired of bomb threats being made against the local public schools to the point they are taking steps to educate students’ parents of the serious consequences that can befall students who make such threats.
“It’s very disruptive to the educational process,” Phipps said in a recent interview with the Washington Daily News.
In October, Southside High School received four separate bomb threats on consecutive days, leading to the evacuation of the school’s 463 students, faculty and staff following each threat.
Following those threats, Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputies charged three local teenagers in connection with three of those threats. 18-year-old Gregory Latham and 16-year-old Aaron Moore, both of Chocowinity, were charged with felony false bomb report to a public building. Deputies also have charged a 15-year-old with another bomb threat. That person’s name was not released because of his or her age, according to news reports.
Since then, the school system has continued to receive bomb threats — bringing the total of bomb threats received this semester to six — resulting in more threats against the schools in one semester than were previously received in an entire school year, Phipps said.
Despite the fact that no bombs have been found by law-enforcement investigators and each threat was ultimately described as “a hoax,” school administrators have no choice but to treat the incidents as actual threats, Phipps said.
In addition to the evacuation of the school involved in a threat, the principal at the school that is the target of the threat must contact local law-enforcement officials and the superintendent, alerting them to the threat. Local rescue and fire departments also must respond, he said.
“We take the cautious approach,” Phipps said. “It doesn’t matter how real we think the threat is.”
In an effort to educate parents and students about bomb threats, local schools have sent telephone messages to students’ homes through the school Alert Now system and posted information on the seriousness of bomb threats and the penalties levied against those who issue such threats on the school system’s website.
In 1999, the N.C. General Assembly stiffened penalties for those who make bomb threats against schools and approved holding parents liable for those actions.
When the law passed, then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said North Carolina would have “zero tolerance for anyone who makes threats of violence against our schools.”
The law made it a serious felony for people who make school-related bomb threats, even if they are hoaxes. It also requires an automatic suspension for 365 days for any student who makes a false report or perpetrates a hoax. Parents or legal guardians may be held liable for costs resulting from the disruption or dismissal of school — up to $25,000 for a hoax and up to $50,000 if a bomb is discharged. The law also required the Division of Motor Vehicles to revoke the permit or driver’s license of a person convicted of making a false threat.
The current penalties were proposed by school principals and superintendents following a rash of threats and hoaxes in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School.
In addition to penalties levied under state law, Beaufort County school students also face disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct.
“I just want parents and students to know that there is a punishment to be paid and it’s pretty strict,” Phipps said.