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Opinion

Olson: Enough 'threat days' at local schools

Parents pick up their children Friday morning from DeKalb High School after the school was temporarily locked down, so police could investigate a threat made over social media.
Parents pick up their children Friday morning from DeKalb High School after the school was temporarily locked down, so police could investigate a threat made over social media.

Maybe school districts should start adding “threat days” to their calendars, the same as they allow for snow days.

That might be a bit extreme, but with the way things have gone lately, foolish talk seems at least as likely to disrupt school as a snowstorm.

In the weeks since the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, police and school administrators around the country have had to respond to a rash of threats – some of them on social media, some made in person.

Since Feb. 16, police and school administrators have responded to various threats in local communities large and small – including Sandwich, Somonauk, Kaneland High School in Maple Park, the Kishwaukee Education Consortium in Malta and DeKalb High School and middle schools.

The incidents have led to the arrest of children as young as 13, and one person older than 18 faces adult charges. Disorderly conduct has been the most common charge.

In Illinois, if you threaten to attack a school, it’s a felony charge which can carry a prison sentence of one to three years.

That’s no joke, but neither is threatening mass violence against your classmates.

The situation is unfortunate. Children don’t have adult brains. They say things sometimes for shock value, or because they want attention, or because they’re just not thinking at all.

As are people of any age, some of them are just jerks.

Children haven’t changed much, but society has. Gun violence dominates our news and our entertainment. Children soak it up like sponges.

Social media also gives young people more platforms for their speech to be heard and circulate among their peers. A scary message written on a bathroom stall is one thing – a threat broadcast out to all your friends or followers will create panic.

At the same time, with all the criticism being leveled against law enforcement and other officials for failing to stop the shooter in Florida, there’s simply no way for authorities to take anything lightly.

It’s been good to see local officials responding to these incidents and letting parents and the public know what’s going on as they can. Although threats against some schools have led to cancelled attendance days, local schools have carried on as normal.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t disrupted by “soft lockdowns” where students are kept in classrooms for an extended period, or from having students decide to leave because they don’t feel safe. Even the children who stay in those situations are distracted by their friends getting up to leave because their parents have come to pull them out of school.

The pace of these disruptive incidents seems to have slowed, and hopefully educators and students can continue to concentrate on teaching and learning without any more “threat days.”

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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