Education

False gun threat made at Hand Middle School; parents upset by school’s response

What happens during a school lockdown?

A school lockdown is a precautionary measure issued in response to a direct or nearby threat. It requires staff and students to respond quickly and comply with rules. Here’s how it often works.
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A school lockdown is a precautionary measure issued in response to a direct or nearby threat. It requires staff and students to respond quickly and comply with rules. Here’s how it often works.

Heather Smith’s husband dropped their daughter off Thursday at Hand Middle School like the parents do every day. But, Thursday morning was different.

“There were police everywhere,” Smith said.

Later, the district sent an alert to parents saying that it had received an unfounded shooting threat. Heather Smith then headed to the school, and when she arrived around 10 a.m., a line of parents stretched out of the door. Kids were calling parents crying, Smith said, afraid “they were going to get shot up.”

“They received a report about a student having a gun,” Richland 1 spokeswoman Karen York said in an email. After the Columbia Police Department and the school’s security investigated the threat, they determined it to be unfounded, York said.

“It was just a rumor,” York said.

The school was neither evacuated nor placed on lockdown, York said.

The school’s principal sent out phone messages from 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. to parents of Hand students, York said.

Smith said she got the notification around 9:45 a.m., around an hour after her daughter was dropped off at the school.

The school district and law enforcement received the threat around 6:30 a.m., York said.

Parents could have made a decision much earlier about whether to take their children to school, Smith said, or to keep them home if the district informed them about the threat before the school day began.


“I’m glad it was an unfounded threat but they didn’t need to be the ones to decide if our children should go through that,” Smith said.


Ingrid Matthews, another Hand Middle School parent, felt similarly.


“I would like to be given the choice whether or not to send my child to school when there is a threat,” Matthews said.


With fear stemming from what seems like a yearly mass school shooting, including a recent incident in Colorado, Smith said, “These kids know what’s going on,” making communication with parents crucial.


“They got to start getting transparent with the parents,” Smith said. “We pay our taxes, we appreciate our teachers but we want to know our kids are safe.”


She is calling for parents to attend a May 28 Richland 1 school board meeting at the district office at 1616 Richland Street.
David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.
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