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Since Sandy Hook shooting, jitters in other schools – some for good reason

At least two students have been arrested for alleged violent plans. But at a North Carolina university, sightings of an assault rifle turned out to apparently be a long black umbrella.

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• Rumors of a student planning to bring a gun to school and kill himself led to the closure of Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, Utah, Friday.

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With so much media attention in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, “there’s also a state of hypervigilance,” says Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. “Parents and others who see things in the community – the assumption is this is a potential threat that needs to be investigated.”

That can avert real threats, as appears to have been the case this week in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

It can also lead to something that later turns out to be harmless.

Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., was locked down for several hours Wednesday when people reported seeing a man with an assault rifle on campus. It turned out to be a long black umbrella, according to WRAL.com. The university handled the situation appropriately, police said.

School officials always have to do a balancing act when it comes to safety. One week after Sandy Hook, school officials would rather have to explain overreaction than another tragedy, Mr. Stephens suggests.

What’s key is that they have threat-assessment teams in place. “Administrators need help to reflect and evaluate the veracity [of threats],” he says.

Once school leaders are confident they have taken the appropriate steps, they may very well decide that a verbal threat in and of itself is not enough to close down a school or cancel an important activity.

Bill Bond had to make a tough decision as a principal when there was an anonymous bomb threat against Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., as graduation approached in 1998. Earlier in the school year, in December 1997, a student had shot eight schoolmates, killing three of them.

There was no evidence to back up the threat on graduation, says Mr. Bond, now the school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which is based in Reston, Va.

The sheriff wanted to cancel graduation, but since there was time to bring in bomb-sniffing dogs, search the school thoroughly, post armed law-enforcement agents, and search people’s bags as they came in, Bond decided not to cancel.

“I said, ‘We’re going to have graduation.’... There has to be a time when you do everything you can, but you go on.”

Associated Press material was used in this report.

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