Elko County School District took the unprecedented step of closing its largest school for an entire day Wednesday after receiving a report of a threat. It was a good decision, despite the loss of study time and the likelihood of a hoax.
The district contacted parents and posted a statement from Superintendent Jeff Zander on its website:
“Dear Elko County School District Community,
There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our students and staff,” he began. “Due to an anonymous report received last night, school at Elko High School will not be in session today, Wednesday, February 21st. The school district and local law enforcement agencies are working diligently to determine the credibility of the report.”
Similar incidents have been happening around the state and the rest of the country in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida school where 17 students and staff were killed by a 19-year-old gunman. It was the third worst mass shooting at a U.S. school, compared with the 28 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and 33 killed at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Elko High School has been the scene of a couple gun-related incidents this year. One involved firearms being confiscated from a student’s vehicle parked at the school, the other a non-student’s alleged threat to shoot a student on the sidewalk.
Zander concluded his letter by saying, “Also, please be advised that throughout the year, we are constantly evaluating systems to assure safety remains a top priority in our district. The vigilance of our parents, students, staff, and neighbors still remains the very best safety measure we have.”
Parents have every reason to believe that the district is doing what it can to increase safety. Thanks to the foresight of Elko Police Chief Ben Reed and Sheriff Jim Pitts, the district implemented a school policing program in 2014. The School Resource Officers program is the best authority to determine what additional steps could be taken.
School security needs to be evaluated regularly, particularly at Elko High School because of its open campus with a busy street running between the main school buildings and gyms.
We appreciate Zander reminding the community that the vigilance of everyone is needed to keep students safe.
The Department of Homeland Security has initiated a “See Something, Say Something” program and it seems to be paying off. More news media are telling stories about how friends or family members have reported potential threats, possibly thwarting an attack.
How many times have we heard about warning signs that went unheeded?
“Just months before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 at his former high school in South Florida, the host family who had taken him in immediately after his mother’s death warned local law enforcement that the 19-year-old had ‘used a gun against people before’ and ‘has put the gun to others’ heads in the past,’” CNN reported Thursday.
His adopted mother reportedly told dispatchers that Cruz had “bought tons of ammo.” The FBI was even warned a few months ago that Cruz had posted a YouTube comment saying “Im going to be a professional school shooter.”
The agency has not explained why no action was taken in response.
“In the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting, there has been intense public scrutiny of why Cruz was not identified as an imminent threat despite his encounters with law enforcement,” CNN stated. “The FBI has acknowledged that it did not act on a specific tip about Cruz that warned about his ‘gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.’”
Homeland Security’s website has instructions on how to report suspicious activity:
“Contact your local law enforcement agency. Describe specifically what you observed, including who or what you saw; when you saw it; where it occurred; and why it’s suspicious. If there is an emergency, call 9–1–1.”
This week’s school closure in Elko is a good sign that people here are taking their responsibility to “see something, say something” more seriously. Law enforcement agencies and the courts need to do their part in seeing that such obvious threats are dealt with before another slaughter happens in our schools.