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Amid Heightened Tensions After Florida School Shooting, Local Districts Address Safety

Manuel Valdes
AP Photo
Students at Roosevelt High School take part in a protest against gun violence Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Seattle.

Ever since the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February, schools have been even more alert to the possibility of gun violence.

Thursday evening, Highline Public Schools in South King County is holding the first in a series of community meetings about school safety. Other districts say they’re taking threats very seriously, as well.

During the national school walkout last week, students spoke in favor of tighter gun laws and described what it’s like to live in an age of lockdowns.

Just this month, a spokesman for the King County Sheriff said three students in the Highline school district were arrested for bringing guns to school.

District spokeswoman Catherine Carbone Rogers said this spate of incidents may reflect greater willingness of students to report when they see a weapon or suspect that another student has one. She also said the weapons were confiscated quickly with no harm to students or staff.

Tacoma has had incidents as well. Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said two students at Oakland High School were arrested after a gun went off accidentally in a restroom, firing into the floor. Three other students were arrested at other schools in the district for threatening violence.

“We have a community service campaign that we started with the Tacoma Police Department called `See Something, Say Something,’ and we’re encouraging the community anytime they’ve heard of a threat against a school to immediately call 911,” Voelpel said.

He said two of the three threats were made on social media, other students shared the posts, and parents learned of them, helping alert the authorities.

Kevin Benton, chief of the juvenile division in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, said there’s been an increase in charges filed against students since the Parkland shooting. It’s likely due to heightened sensitivity among school officials, students and law enforcement, he said.

Threats of violence are serious crimes and students need to know they could face felony charges, Benton said.

“There have been kids that have said to police, `Well, I never intended to follow through on it. I just intended to scare them,'" he said. "Well, that in and of itself is the crime – that you uttered those words intending to scare someone.”

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has offered to visit schools to speak with students about how seriously such threats are taken.

The Franklin Pierce School District said it has invited the prosecutor’s office to talk with students on April 20.  Students across the country are planning events that day to end gun violence in schools.  

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.