Montgomery County sees uptick in online threats against schools, students

More threats are coming into the school system in Montgomery County, Maryland, than ever before; and while most of them are empty, police say they are not harmless.

“We’re seeing more and more social media threats to schools and to students as the years go on. As new media is adopted, we’re seeing them on various platforms, from Twitter to TikTok now and Instagram,” said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner.

Students are the ones who most commonly post threats, and these threats can cause rampant fear that keeps hundreds of students home and cause anxiety for those who do attend class, Turner said.

“Some think it’s funny and a way to get attention for themselves. And some see it as a cry for help, so we need to be prepared to respond to both,” Turner said.

But for a generation of children who express themselves on social media often before talking about their feelings, making sure they understand the consequences of making a threat is paramount, Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Tom Jordan said.

“If it’s threatening or veiled threats, regardless if it’s social media or any other method, it’s not to be taken lightly. We have to investigate. We just can’t allow this thing to go on because it is so disruptive, and it creates such anxiety,” Jordan said.

Despite the Digital Citizenship curriculum at schools, which aims to educate students of every age to be smart and safe online, a recent increase in threat-related incidents indicates that some do not understand the penalties, Jordan said.

“This isn’t harmless. You can be criminally charged under the education article and under the criminal law article for making these kinds of threats that are disruptive and dangerous,” he said.

Jordan offered examples of what might rise to the level of a threat.

“Sometimes, it’s a kid making a thing on social media showing a gun, or like an image that’s threatening and saying things like, ‘Wait till tomorrow.’ Obviously, it’s a matter of concern. Sometimes, it’s a direct threat like, ‘Hey, those kids are picking on me, I’m coming for you tomorrow.’ … That’s a more direct one,” Jordan said.

“Either way, we investigate them as serious incidents.”

The school system has a section on its website with tips for parents and suggests parents talk with their children about appropriate online behavior.

Turner suggested monitoring children’s social media accounts, where there can often be clues to how they are feeling.

“A lot of conversations go on in the social media world that affect a student’s fears and feelings. If there is a problem, that’s where someone might discover there’s something we can do to help support the student,” Turner said.

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