SC school bomb threats costly, emotionally taxing

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Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 4:51 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2023 at 6:56 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Multiple bomb threats at a Charleston County elementary school leave parents feeling rattled, and now the school district is sharing what goes into handling these types of threats, which some data shows, are costly to taxpayers.

Three bomb threats were called into A.C. Corcoran Elementary in North Charleston at the end of September, reports from North Charleston Police show.

“We come out to our parents crying and in tears, and we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’” 9-year-old Michael Webb, a fourth grader at the school, says.

His mother, Karen Webb, pulled him out of school each day after the threats. The district had an e-learning day on the Friday following the threats.

“I was petrified,” she says. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘What if something happens to him and I never get to see him again?’”

For Karen Webb, part of that fear comes from students not evacuating for the threats and what looked like a smaller response from first responders each day.

“In this crazy world today, you just never know,” she says.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when these threats happen, Charleston County School District Communications Director Andy Pruitt says, and the district takes every single threat seriously.

“We have to make sure law enforcement is immediately aware and our district security team is aware, and then we start following the different protocols that are required,” Pruitt says. “Really what it comes down to is always treating any threat we’re made aware of as it matters and it’s real.”

There is a plan in place for different types of potential threats, according to Pruitt, and certain situations call for different responses. An active threat on campus might mean a full lockdown, while a potential threat elsewhere in the community might mean a secure hold— locking the building and holding students in their classrooms, Pruitt says.

For security reasons, the district can’t reveal specifics about why the bomb threats at A.C. Corcoran led to a secure hold and why students were not evacuated, but the district makes these decisions for a reason, Pruitt says, with guidance from police and other agencies.

“We are following the recommendations from our law enforcement partners in how to handle a bomb threat,” he says. “We want to make sure that people that know the most, law enforcement, if we’re doing what they suggest, then we feel really good about it.”

Beyond Charleston, when looking at the issue of school threats, one technology company’s data shows it is a problem for South Carolina.

TDR Technology Solutions tracks school threats in the U.S.

This school year, South Carolina ranks 7th for the number of threats against schools and 13th for the number of students impacted, their data shows.

There have been at least 28 threats in the state and more than 36,000 students impacted, according to TDR’s data.

South Carolina ranks on that list alongside states like Texas and California which have much larger student populations.

“When you look at states like that that have a lot of students, of course their threats are higher, but your percentages are off,” Don Beeler, the CEO of TDR Technology Solutions, says.

School threats don’t only cost parents peace of mind, Beeler says, they also cost taxpayers money. Despite efforts of school districts, there are disruptions with these threats and that equates to learning loss, he says.

“You’re looking at about $3.5 million per day to run the [Charleston County] school system, and when someone interrupts that, it’s an actual cost,” Beeler says.

Threats to schools have cost South Carolina taxpayers more than $574,000, TDR’s data estimates, which is 9th in the country. That number doesn’t factor in the cost of first responders or the cost of the impact on students’ and teachers’ mental health, Beeler says.

“It really says there is a problem,” he says.

Karen Webb agrees these threats are a real problem. She hopes the threats stop, and she hopes the district never stops taking them seriously.

“Do the right thing for our children, whatever it takes, whether it’s sending police, fire, ambulance, three times in a row to the school, evacuating them, whatever they need to do to save our children,” she says.

The Charleston County School District encourages parents who have questions about the district’s response to threats to reach out to the district’s security team, communication team or other district officials.