Four Texas City Independent School District students have been arrested for making shooting threats since Sept. 24.
About 300 students were absent Wednesday at Dunbar Middle School in Dickinson Independent School District, the day after a shooting threat at the school, the district’s fifth this school year. Aside from the obvious disruption to the district’s education efforts, the absences delayed their investigation into the threat, officials said.
School districts all over the county are having to cope with a growing trend of students making shooting threats in the months after a May 18 shooting at Santa Fe High School where 10 people were killed.
“We are definitely getting more calls about instances of threats, or what appear to be threats,” Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said.
The uptick has local educators rethinking how they handle such instances, has led to more criminal charges against the students and leaves officials wondering whether this is a new normal.
“The saying is that you can’t be young and dumb anymore,” said Laurie Rodriguez, director of special programs for Dickinson Independent School District. “If you’re an 11-year-old fifth-grader and you pop off with a comment because you’re immature, you’re going to be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.”
Galveston County school districts such as Clear Creek, Dickinson and Texas City, among others, have all seen an increase in reports of threats.
“I wouldn’t call it a disruption to the campuses, but it certainly is consuming a great deal of administrators’ time,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for the district.
Clear Creek officials didn’t have specific numbers about how many tips they have received compared to previous years, but they have been investigating each report, Polsen said.
While the threats might not empty a school each time, they do create an atmosphere of chaos, said Mike Matranga, Texas City’s executive director of security and school safety.
“We consider each threat seriously,” Matranga said. “I want my kids, and anyone else’s, to feel they can come to school and be safe and learn.”
Texas City hired Matranga after the May shooting, creating a new position earning a salary of about $135,000.
District officials are hopeful some of the security upgrades are a proactive measure to deter students from making threats, Matranga said.
“I think it’s societal,” Matranga said. “People are able to speak online and on social media chat rooms and say things they wouldn’t normally say and there are not a lot of consequences to that.”
Other area districts reported similar issues.
Most of the tips Clear Creek officials receive are about issues on social media, Polsen said.
Both Dickinson and Texas City school districts have events planned to talk to parents about how to start conversations with students about social media.
“We need to be straightforward about what’s going on, what struggles we’re having and what sort of help we need,” Rodriguez said.
Part of that is teaching students specifically what words will get them in trouble and explain what the consequences of using those words are, whether it’s being charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, Rodriguez said.
Dickinson also formed a committee to research age-appropriate ways to teach students how to use language appropriately, Rodriguez said.
While talking with students is always a better idea than not talking with them about issues, educators should remember that kids process information differently than adults, according to an expert at the University of Houston.
“Definitely the conversation a family is having can have a negative or a positive effect on children,” said Shainy Varghese, an associate professor in the College of Nursing. “But as a mom and provider, I want to analyze and know how much the kid knows and understands about these things.”
Educators might be better served asking students what their fears are and trying to understand them instead of just giving them lots of information, Varghese said.
Both local educators and law enforcement officials were hoping the recent uptick won’t be a sustained trend.
“I hope and we intend to convey the message to them that this is not a joking matter,” Roady said. “Hopefully, the message will start to sink in as more and more people feel the consequences of making threats.”