A series of threats and rumors of violence in Central Texas schools in recent days have students and parents on high alert.
Waco, Robinson, and Bryan ISDs, among others, have confronted threats similar to ones seen across the country in the weeks since the shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, which killed four students.
These threats are often hoaxes that spread across social media. Jeni Janek, education specialist and coordinator of the crisis response team at Education Service Center Region 12, said these occurrences are likely part of a response to the Michigan shooting.
"In the wake of a national event of that magnitude, it is not uncommon to have a very emotionally charged atmosphere because it is something that we are very, very worried about," Janek said.
Risk assessment can be complicated and layered, but organizations like Education Service Center Region 12 offer training to schools to deal with threats such as the ones seen recently.
"It doesn't mean that every single time that there are certain words that are said or there are certain isolated behaviors, that it always means that there's going to be a threat," Janek said. "It just means that we're more aware that those things could indicate a need for intervention."
Janek suggests that one of the keys to preventing violence in schools is students, parents, and schools working together. It is critical that parents and students have open conversations about concerns at school.
"Being able to say, 'If you see or know of something that makes you very, very uneasy—a very detailed situation or post or aggression that really just makes you feel that very uneasy feeling—I'm here for you and I wanna make sure that you're okay and you're safe,'" Janek explained.
Threats of violence can have serious criminal consequences for the person making them. Depending on how substantial the threat is, it may be handled within the school district or outside law enforcement may be involved.
"We are going to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone is safe," said Cierra Shipley, public information officer for the Waco Police Department. "If that threat is imminent, of course, we're going to respond immediately and proactively and make sure that no one is harmed."
Shipley said depending on the circumstances around the threat, charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony.