Arundel school superintendent still battling bomb threats Letter to parents follows public meeting

incidents reach 26

October 26, 1997|By Kristi E. Swartz | Kristi E. Swartz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Five days after a frustrated Anne Arundel County Superintendent Carol S. Parham urged a roomful of parents to discuss with their children the severity of bomb threats at schools, she went a step further and mailed a letter to parents Friday asking the same thing.

Since schools opened Aug. 25, 26 bomb threats have disturbed classes, mostly in the southern part of the county. Police have made four arrests, including two this week. But the threats are still interrupting learning and forcing students and staff members outside. "We fully recognize that the incidents are stressful for students, parents and staff," Parham wrote in a letter distributed to the families and employees of about 12 schools hit hard by threats. "I wish I could tell you we have all the answers related to this disturbing situation. Unfortunately, we do not."

The most recent threat occurred Tuesday morning at Southern High School. Police arrested a 14-year-old Wednesday after two students reported to police that he had written a threatening note about a bomb.

The Old Mill schools complex and Southern High School have been threatened most frequently this year -- six times each. Southern Middle and Lothian Elementary each have received three threats.

"We're feeling frankly that part of this is educating parents about how serious this is in general," said Jane Doyle, spokeswoman for the board of education.

Between March 26 and June 3 -- the end of the last academic year -- county officials received 37 telephone or written threats and made 15 arrests. Most of this year's threats have been written, Doyle said. Notes have been dropped in hallways, bathrooms or left on computers, she said. One recent threat was etched in pencil in a bathroom sink.

An entire school must be evacuated when a threat is made. Students and faculty have to stand outside a school waiting for an all-clear signal, which takes an average of one hour and up to two hours. All 5,000 students in Old Mill's high school and two middle schools must leave the complex, even if a threat is made in one of the schools, Doyle said.

With colder temperatures setting in, Parham said she is worried about students and staff members, especially those with medical conditions.

The county is considering lengthening the school year or adjusting the calendar to make up for time lost from the threats, Doyle said.

The county has "entered into a close cooperative effort with the Anne Arundel County police and Emergency/Rescue/Fire personnel," Parham wrote parents, to try to minimize the time students and staff are outside. An additional "bomb dog" has been purchased and trained for $5,000 to make sure that an animal is available for every threat investigation.

The county formed a public safety and school safety task force last spring to review basic procedures for bomb threats and to explore possible ways to deal with them. The task force has been communicating with other school districts having similar experiences, Parham said.

Calls to school telephones are being traced, and police officials are analyzing handwriting samples from the written threats.

A state law that took effect Oct. 1 makes bomb threats a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison, instead of one year.

"We hope this will work in our favor," Doyle said.

The county, working with Annapolis Crimesolvers, is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone connected with the threats.

"Above all, we value the safety and security of our students and staff members," Parham said in the letter. "I hope that you will talk with your child about what I have outlined here."

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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