District: Most Students Angry Over Bomb Threats
By Brandi Makuski
Officials from the Stevens Point Area Public School District say they’re still at a loss for motive behind three unrelated bomb threats made at the city’s two public junior high schools, but they can agree on the end result: it’s not funny.
“The district takes seriously any threats of this nature regardless of where it might occur,” said Superintendent Attila Weninger. “Our actions at P.J.’s and Ben (Franklin) show we do take them quite seriously, and the students identified are dealt with accordingly.”
In October two written bomb threats were found in a P.J. Jacobs Junior High boys’ bathroom about a week apart. On Nov. 3 another threat was found in a bathroom at Ben Franklin Junior High. That threat indicated a bomb would be delivered to the school sometime during Thanksgiving break.
Weninger said he can’t attribute any one reason to the number of incidents in such a short period of time.
“It’s very unfortunate we’d have students who would do this, either seriously- which would note some mental health issues- or as a prank, which shows a lack of understanding about what is appropriate and what is not,” he said. Weninger added the schools were working with students and parents on a “case by case” basis to provide counseling or professional referrals for anyone who’s feeling anxious or afraid because of the threats.
At least some students behind the threats at P.J.’s have been identified, he said, but he declined to release the age or gender of those involved, or what actions were taken against them. But the result of their prank, he said, were wide-sweeping.
“We did a complete search of every locker, every classroom, every room, every garbage can,” said Weninger. “We did a complete and thorough search of each building right after each threat was made.”
Students at Ben Franklin Jr. High had their backpacks and pockets searched by police prior to entering the building on Wednesday, but to stave off an air of uncertainty or discomfort, Weninger said school staff members greeted every student at the door.
“(Principal) Connie Negaard greeted every single student at those doors and assured them they were safe, and tried to lend them a sense of security as they came in,” he said.
Negaard was not immediately available for comment.
Since the threats, P.J. Jacobs Principal Jon Vollendorf said he and his staff members visited each of the school’s social studies classes to discuss the situation directly with the students.
“We were real blunt with them and explained that making or participating in a threat like this is a crime,” Vollendorf said on Wednesday. “Yes, we talked about the school board policy and what can happen to you from a school perspective, but there’s also a criminal aspect to it; if you are an adult, this is a felony. So it’s a potentially life-changing situation.”
Vollendorf said his staff will continue to be extra vigilant and change up their regular routines between classes, including using restrooms typically not used by staff.
But more so than staff alertness, Vollendorf said it’s typically the students themselves who draw the line in the sand when it comes to suspicious or unsafe behavior in schools.
“Our students are an integral part of our safety net; we rely on them to say something to someone,” he said. “It’s so important we grow positive relationships with our kids; we want them to tell someone so we can follow up as quickly as possible. We want a culture that is intolerant of these things because it causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety. That’s the worst part; when someone does something like this they really affect so many people.”
He added some students were kept home from school following the threats, and costs associated with extra manpower and safety precautions following the bomb threats have yet to be determined.
“I talked with a lot of students, I talked with a lot of parents; expectedly, they were very upset. Most students were really angry,” he said. “It’s unfair for them to come to school and have somebody check their backpack because of what somebody wrote in the bathroom. The kids were very angry. This is a really good school community, we’ve got a great school environment, and that includes students who make mistakes.”
City police have been actively involved in all three bomb threats. Police Chief Kevin Ruder said regardless of what form the threats take, his department doesn’t make any room for guessing.
“We take any threat to public safety seriously,” Ruder said. “It doesn’t matter if the threat was phoned in, which was more likely before cell phones and caller ID and all that, or written on a piece of toilet paper in the bathroom. We consider them all viable threats. I’d rather err on the side of caution than have something which endangers students, or the general public, and see someone get injured.”
Weninger said while principals and teachers from both schools are concerned, he was most impressed by the overall reaction of the students.
“Students are upset that other students would do this, that they would get all this media attention for something like this,” he said. “We know we’re better than that, this is not who we are. They’re pride has been affected by this. Kids are saying, ‘This is not who are are’. And I’m pretty impressed by that, it speaks a lot about our kids that they would take this kind of ownership.”