Schools and school districts across the country are dealing with a concerning trend—a spate of threatening social media posts. In Helena, police and school officials have said they are aware of the posts and are ready to keep students and staff safe.
From lockdowns to evacuations, students and teachers at schools throughout Helena Public Schools prepare for the worst-case scenario.
“We practice these drills,” HPS Superintendent Rex Weltz said. “Unfortunately, we never thought we’d have to do this 20, 30 years ago.”
Times have changed, as have threats against schools. According to law enforcement, the most recent spate of threats have been made via social media posts. The posts tend to be relatively vague.
“It was just ‘this date, at this time, we’re doing this,’” Helena Police Department Cpl. Noal Petty said of the threatening posts.
No matter how vague the threat, the law enforcement and school responses are not vague.
“We take these threats as if they’re real all the time,” Petty said. “We have to.”
At the school level, Weltz said a threat would spark one of a variety of responses that have been planned and practiced with the help of school-level safety committees.
“If it’s an active shooter, we have plans; if it’s a bomb, we have plans; if it’s an anonymous threat, we have plans,” Weltz said.
On the law enforcement side, a threat would spark an investigation to determine where it came from.
According to Petty, no matter how anonymous the internet may seem, posts and other activity leaves a digital footprint.
“We’ve had some threats in Montana, and law enforcement has been able to track them down,” Petty said.
While the Helena School District has not seen a social media threat yet, Petty warned that if one does occur—depending on the nature of the threat—it could result in criminal charges.
Anyone who sees a threat is asked to report it to the police, school district, school resource officer, teacher or a parent. No matter how trivial the threat may seem, reporting it can help keep students and staff safe.
“It’s our top priority,” Weltz said. “Parents send their kids to school every day understanding that we’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe.”