The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Don Ogle
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

School Threat

 

January 12, 2018

Don Ogle

Sidney Police Chief Joe Aikens walks down the hall at Sidney Middle School Wednesday. Police officers and sheriff's deputies patrolled school halls and around the grounds at all Sidney schools as a precaution after a message was found on a bathroom wall.

Sidney school students were met at the door by law enforcement officers and administrators as they went to school Wednesday, the result of a message found scribbled on a bathroom wall Tuesday.

The message, "school shooting January 10, 2018," was found by a teacher just before the end of the school day and reported it to Middle School Principal Brandon Ross, who in turn called Sidney police.

Police responded to the school "right away," Ross said. From there, school and law enforcement officials began investigating the message and forming a plan on their response.

The first public announcement was made by Superintendent of Schools, Jay Ehler, who sent out a message via the school's social media network.

Ehler's message outlined the situation and said school would be in session as normal, with law enforcement and staff having a heightened awareness.

Sidney Police Chief Joe Aikens said officials determined schools did not need to be closed, but part of their plan was to remain vigilant with added presence in schools. On Wednesday, Aikens and Ross greeted students outside the middle school, and Aikens said there were police or Sheriff's Office deputies inside all schools, with added patrols around the schools. Once inside their schools students were, as usual, behind locked exterior doors where outsiders had to be allowed in by school personnel.

In the meantime, an investigation is ongoing regarding the bathroom message.

"We believe this is an isolated incindent," Aikens said. "But we're running a thorough investigation."

Despite the increased response from the schools and law enforcement, some parents chose Wednesday to keep their children home. Those attending, Ross said, seemed to be handling the situation well. He said as some entered the middle school they commented on how sad it was to have such a situation arise.

Ehler said attendance in the middle school was down a little more than 40 percent from normal Wednesday and in the remaining schools down 15 to 25 percent.

Asked about the decision to keep school open under the circumstances, Ehler said making the call was a tough one, but given the nature of the message and with heightened security, he felt the plan was solid.

"We take these kinds of things seriously," Ehler said. "And we want the kids and the community to know we take it seriously. We're going to do everything we can to make sure this is not a credible threat and at the same time not disrupt what we're doing for education."

Aikens agreed making the call to hold classes was hard.

"It would have been real easy for us to close down all the schools," he said. "But then does this become a thing? If I had thought for a second that we had an imminent threat, we would have used our Code Red system and notified parents that we were closing the schools."

But Aikens feels the real key to student safety was the manner in which the school handled the threat.

"A teacher saw it, reported it, and the school reported it to us," Aikens said. "Then we can investigate and determine if students' safety is threatened."

Aikens said making that report is the first, and best, step. He said in many of history's incidents, warning signs were ignored and only came to light in follow up investigations.

"You don't want to find out two weeks later that the person had made threats a month before that were ignored," said Aikens, adding he would rather follow a lead that turns into nothing than to have an incident.

Heightened security and awareness continued as students attended classes Thursday. Aikens said he wasn't sure how long the stance would remain, saying police and school officials would continue to re-evaluate the situation regularly and make the call as needed.

Ehler told the Sun-Telegraph at the end of the school day Wednesday that he was pleased with the way things went during the day, commending law enforcement, students and teachers for a safe and productive day. He said staff, administrators and law enforcement will continue to be aware, working to "get back to what we would do on a normal day."

Ehler also sent out a message late Wednesday thanking law enforcement, teachers and students for the way each handled the situation.

"I would like to commend the teachers, staff, students, and administrators of Sidney Public Schools, along with the Sidney Police Department and Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office, for their efforts to enhance the security at our schools today," Ehlers said in the statement. "I visited multiple classrooms at the Sidney Middle School and High School during the day. Without exception, teachers were teaching and students were learning. While everyone was operating at a high level of awareness and caution, they were doing so with an even higher level of professionalism. It was "business as usual", and I am proud of our school district.

"When situations like this occur, appropriate response is always in question. Sidney Public Schools heard both commendations and concerns regarding how this issue was handled. As an administrative team, we will review our response and carefully consider both what actions were successful and look for areas of improvement. In addition, I hope that this serves as a teaching moment for our students, allowing them to consider how poor decisions can cause issues for all people involved.

"Again, a sincere thank you to all those who performed at such a high level during a challenging situation."

 

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