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Banford Elementary School in Canton. Photo: Canton Central School
Banford Elementary School in Canton. Photo: Canton Central School

School leaders seek answers on bomb hoaxes

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The Newtown shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings have left all of America asking questions about security. But schools have been particularly on edge.

Another bomb hoax caused an early dismissal at Norwood-Norfolk central schools on Tuesday, according to NorthCountryNow.com. It's the third in recent weeks at the school. A fake bomb threat forced the evacuation of Madrid-Waddington schools last week.

In St. Lawrence County, there have been at least half a dozen bomb hoaxes at schools in the last month. They've forced school leaders to walk a tightrope between safety and maintaining a normal school day.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The night before the junior-senior prom last month at Norwood-Norfolk high school, a student reported a bomb threat scrawled on a wall.

District superintendent Beth Kirnie called in state troopers, who swept the school with a bomb sniffing dog. They determined the threat was a hoax. The prom went on.

Then the following week, another bomb threat, this time during the school day. Like the previous threst, it was written on a wall, "discovered by a student who wisely reported it to an administrator."

Instruction continued, but classrooms went into a "modified lockdown" while police and the dog swept the building again. They concluded it was another hoax.

Incidents like these leave school officials with very tough decisions – when to evacuate? When to return? How to deal with the flood of worried calls from parents who had received texts from their children?

And, Kirnie says, how to project safety and discipline while not drawing too much attention.

"Yes, we want people to know about it and we want people to be secure in the fact that we're doing everything we can to keep staff and students safe, but when it comes to pranks, I wish we could devote less attention, so that whomever's perpetrating them doesn't get that satisfaction."

Two bomb threats recently led to the evacuation of all students and staff at Canton Central – once for almost two hours. Superintendent Bill Gregory says there's even a fear that that's a safety risk.

"You may have some type of designed threat designed to force the evacuation of the school and the threat may, in fact, be external to the school."

Gregory's asked local police to secure the perimeter of his school, too, for this reason. He says whoever is responsible doesn't realize the stress it causes.

"That this is a very serious offense, that it causes the complete disruption of the school, and that there are educational and fiscal impacts involved."

Hoaxes like these disrupt hundreds of hours of class time statewide, according to the New York State Department of Education. They also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in police time.

New York made issuing false bomb threats to schools a felony in 1999. Minors face youthful offender charges and their parents can be fined up to $5,000.

The state didn't make available for this story recent data on the number of school bomb threats statewide. But neighboring New Jersey is reporting a 27 percent increase in bomb threats at schools this year, with an uptick since the Boston Marathon bombings in mid-April.

It's hard to know why there has been a rash of hoaxes recently in St. Lawrence County. Canton's Bill Gregory attributes it to what happened in Boston and Newtown.

"There is a trickle down effect when you see those things occurring in other parts of the country."

Norwood-Norfolk's Beth Kirnie believes it's more a product of almost-summertime misbehavior. But in the post-Newtown era, those pranks take on a new meaning.

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