Social media plays role in monitoring potential school threats

Three high-profile threats to North Texas schools have gained a lot of attention in the last two weeks.

Arrests were made in two of the incidents, and in the third, the student was allowed to return to class, setting off an angry parent protest.

It almost seems like a rash of schools threats surfacing, but what they've all shown is that police, educators and parents have to be more diligent than ever. Once a threat is identified, it opens up a host of ethical and legal questions for school districts and law enforcement.

Last Wednesday at Princeton High School, metal detectors stood between students and their education -- the result of a school shooting threat posted by a teenager on a new app called Burnbook.

On Monday, a letter went out to parents of students at Molina High School in Dallas about a student arrested for allegedly threatening on Instagram to shoot up graduation.

Also on Monday, protests took place at Tidwell Middle School in Northwest ISD. Parents were angry that a student was allowed to return to school after posting a fictitious book online, detailing the murders of classmates.

The school district determined that the book did not violate its code of conduct and was not written while the student was enrolled in the district.

It handed the case to the Tarrant County District Attorney to determine if it's free speech or a criminal act.

Attorney Shonn Brown says it boils down two main considerations.

"The intent, the threat and the safety to all the students in the environment, balanced against the right of every child to have a public education, including the child who wrote the story," said Brown.

Brown sees a key difference in the two cases where arrests were made and the Tidwell case.         

"The Molina case and the Princeton case seem to be direct targeted acts of, ‘This is what I am absolutely going to do,' and not, ‘I'm creating or fabricating a story about what might happen and what it might look like,'" said Brown.

Chief Craig Miller with the Dallas ISD Police says his officers use programs to track buzzwords like "explosives" and "shooting."  

But they can't track every app and website. The students themselves are their best defense.

In all three recent cases, students were the whistleblowers.

"I think what I'm seeing happen is that kids are getting past the point of realizing, maybe, ‘I don't want to be perceived as a snitch,' to now being, ‘I don't want to die,'" said Miller.

Brown says that we often aren't getting the full story to help explain a district's decision.

Because of privacy laws, a district can't disclose everything it's learned in an investigation of a certain incident or student.

But certainly, that information will factor in to how a case is handled.

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