Two schools in North Dakota responded to threats of violence this week: Hettinger Public School and Turtle Mountain Community Schools.
Across the country, schools have responded to an increase in the number of threats in the week following a shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
In Minnesota, at least three schools closed or were placed on lockdown this week in response to threats of violence, according to media reports. Two people were arrested Thursday in Sheboygan, Wisc., in relation to two separate threats against a school there. In New York, similar threats were made to multiple schools in the past week.
The Educator's School Safety Network has tracked the number of threats and incidents of violence since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. From Feb. 15-21, there have been more than 300 incidents and threats.
On Monday evening in Hettinger, the Adams County Sheriff's Office received information about a threat against Hettinger Public School, according to a statement from the sheriff's office. A juvenile was arrested in relation to the incident, which the office described as a "general shooting threat." The juvenile was charged; however, specific charges were not available.
Turtle Mountain Community Schools received two threats this week and two students were arrested, according to an email from a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The students were detained and released, and no charges have been filed.
According to posts on the Turtle Mountain Community Schools' Facebook page, an initial threat was made against the high school on Tuesday, prompting a two-hour late start the following day. On Thursday, a second threat was reported and students were released early from school "due to continued threats of violence." The area schools remained closed Friday.
No details could be released about the threats due to the ongoing investigation, according to the spokeswoman with the BIA. No credible threats were known after the arrests were made, and law enforcement is conducting extra patrol in the area.
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction does not follow up with schools on threats of violence, according to Valerie Fischer, the department's director of safe and healthy schools.
DPI does compile an annual report with information from schools about incidents resulting in suspension and expulsion, including data on students involved in violent and drug-related incidents.
During the 2016-17 school year, there were 36 reports of a student bringing a knife to school and one report of a handgun. During the 2013-14 school year, there were three reports of a student bringing a handgun and three reports of students bringing a shotgun or a rifle.
These incidents could be reported as an occurrence in which a student brought a gun to school and left in a vehicle parked on school grounds, according to Dale Wetzel, spokesman for DPI. Also, it also does not matter if the gun was loaded or unloaded. Local districts are required to make their own policies on whether to report these incidents.
Fischer said she receives calls from schools after a student is suspended or expelled following an incident, and sometimes schools are unsure of the next steps to take with the students.
"Especially in the small schools where everyone kind of knows (each other), and so it’s like you need to protect the confidentiality of the student, but you also want to talk about it," Fischer said. "You want kids to know that schools are a safe place to be, and you want kids to feel that they have trusted adults that they can turn to."
Mandan Public Schools Superintendent Mike Bitz said there are dozens of reports of threats that are not credible each year — often a student making a foolish comment and not realizing the consequences.
Last week, the district sent a note home to parents after a middle school boy at a bus stop said something about "I want to kill you," according to Bitz. A group of students overheard him, and one student told administrators about it. The boy got a consequence and note was sent home to his parents informing them that it was a threat.
No matter what the threat, the district always has to follow up.
“It’s a balancing act; it’s a judgement call. We want our parents informed; we want them to know," Bitz said.
All incidents are taken seriously and investigated by school administrators and school resource officers, he said. Parents of the student are also involved in the process.
Bismarck Public Schools Superintendent Tamara Uselman said she believes people are being more hypervigilant and reporting threats, real or not. There have been incidents of students making fake threats on social media, for example, a Snapchat threat with what appeared to be a fake gun, yet the district still had to respond.
"You don’t know if it’s a real weapon or not, so you investigate all of it," Uselman said.
This week, BPS sent a notice to parents informing them of the district's threat assessment procedure. The notice also asked parents to tell their children not to joke about committing a school shooting or act of violence in school or online.