A local juvenile detention facility is nearly full as Alabama students face threat charges, officials said, in the aftermath of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“Yesterday we had 48 juveniles in 48 beds,” Mike Rollins, the director of Coosa Valley Youth Services, said. “Seven of those 48 were charged with making terroristic threats.”
Calhoun County Assistant District Attorney Randy Moeller said on Monday, following the arrest of two Jacksonville High School students, that the facility was full, in part, because of an increase in threat charges.
“He’s right,” Rollins said Tuesday.
On Tuesday the number of juveniles in the facility’s care dropped to 37, but it’s common for their numbers to be in the high 40s, Rollins said. Coosa Valley serves six counties, including Calhoun County, and at times will serve others if they have room.
“We normally have plenty of room to take in kids, but the last couple of weeks we’ve continued to have numbers into the 40s,” he said. “We can’t really predict how many we’ll have at the start of each day at the moment.”
Rollins said in his experience there is often an uptick in threat charges after major events such as the Florida shooting.
“Typically we might see an increase simply because of kids reaching out for attention and getting it,” the director said. “Of course, school officials are a lot more vigilant and everyone’s awareness is raised. Tolerance goes down.”
Of the students charged recently, Rollins said it’s likely some of those children said things or made posts on social media that were “inappropriate or out of context, just kid talk.”
“But then there are serious threats wrapped up in amongst those threats as well,” he said. “Officials have to take those things serious because the one time they don’t something tragic could happen.”
School safety has been called into question by many national and state officials since 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month. The Educator’s School Safety Network, an Ohio-based national organization that tracks school threats, said more than 70 threats have been reported to law enforcement nationwide each day since the shooting. Before the Parkland shooting, the organization said, there were about 10 threats reported a day across the country.
Locally, the topic has come up in meetings of at least two school boards. At a forum Tuesday evening called by Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis, school officials told residents about how ongoing renovations at Weaver High School will ultimately make the building more secure.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced her “Smart on Safety Initiative” which consists of four proposed solutions. Ivey promoted Senate Bill 323, which would allow the Education Advancement and Technology fund to be used by schools to implement safety measures.
Secondly, Ivey said schools will have more power to intervene in the lives of students who are at risk of harming themselves or others.
“Schools will be required to develop a plan for students at a risk of being violent against themselves or others,” she said. “The plan will bring together law enforcement, school officials and mental health professionals to identify these students.”
Ivey said that all schools will be required to have an emergency plan in place for active-shooter situations and provide training classes on that plan. The governor also signed an executive order establishing the Securing Alabama Facilities of Education Council, which will be responsible for working to implement the school-safety priorities.
“This four-point approach is ambitious, but it is based on research,” Ivey said. “I have one goal: to ensure every Alabama school is smart on safety. We can honor those lives lost in Parkland by refusing to be complacent. I’m not content to allow violence to become to norm.”
The threats, however, do have parents on edge. On Monday, many parents kept their children home from Jacksonville High School after a threat was spread around on social media. On Tuesday morning, parents of Ohatchee elementary and high school students received an automated message regarding a break-in at one of the schools.
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said on Tuesday that there was no threat to the school and the increased deputy presence was by those investigating the the crime. Calhoun County Schools safety director Randy Reaves said school administrators decided to send out the automated message to “avoid rumors.”
“Parents see an added police presence and rumors start to get out,” Reaves said. “We’re trying to get out in front of it to quell their fears.”