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Miami-Dade Schools Grapples With 'Spike' In Threats, Urges Parents To Monitor Kids' Social Media

Colleen Wright
Miami Herald
Leaders of the Miami-Dade school district, its police force and the state attorney's office hold a news conference to stress the dramatic consequences of making threats against schools.

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools police force has investigated two dozen threats against schools and arrested six people in connection with those events since the academic year began in August, with nearly all of the incidents explained as “nothing more than a joke,” according to the superintendent.

But the district wants to send a message to families and students: Making threats against schools isn’t a joke. It’s a felony.

For the perpetrators — often kids — it could mean expulsion, state or federal charges, imprisonment and a criminal record that hinders them from applying for college, student financial aid, jobs and housing in the future.

For the district, it means an unfortunate use of taxpayer dollars and a diversion of law enforcement resources that could otherwise be used to protect schools from actual dangers.

“This is not about not understanding the youth of today. The vast majority of young people in our community and beyond are absolutely doing the right thing,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during a news conference at the district’s downtown offices on Tuesday. “But there are a few individuals who — out of irresponsibility, immaturity or just meanness — are doing the wrong thing, and they need to be dealt with.”

Carvalho also said the district plans to advocate in Tallahassee for a new law that would lead to criminal charges against parents if they don’t properly store their firearms, allowing their children to obtain and use the weapons to threaten schools.

For example, Carvalho described “instances where a parent’s negligence in securing their own assets, firearms, leads to students getting access, taking photographs, posting photographs of these firearms that they should have no access to.

“There ought to be some degree of parental responsibility, and that’s exactly what we want to explore,” he said.

Carvalho said last school year, the district’s police force investigated 115 threats and arrested 20 students. He said about a quarter of these threats lead to lockdowns at schools, disrupting hundreds or thousands of students.

Carvalho said students will be encouraged to make public service announcements in class discouraging their classmates from making threats, and parents will be offered training on how to prevent these incidents, as part of the district’s broader communications campaign using the hashtag #ItsNoJokeMDCPS.

Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and school district police chief Edwin Lopez joined Carvalho for the news conference to raise awareness about the barrage of threats, which they said began in earnest after the 2018 Parkland school shooting but “spiked” in recent weeks.

Rundle, the state attorney, said her office has dealt with 58 students arrested for making threats against schools since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. In a small percentage of those cases, police confiscated firearms in the students’ households, she said.

Lopez said the threats are often made online late in the evening, and parents have been surprised to hear a police officer knocking on the door in the middle of the night.

“These social media threats — hoax or not —put a damper on the resources that we have allocated to the school sites,” Lopez said.

“We are urging parents, we are urging guardians to monitor the social media activity of your children," he said, "whether they’re in third grade or seniors in high school."

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.