ARNOLD, Mo. — An all too familiar scene for students, parents and teachers played out in Arnold on Friday.
An early morning bomb threat was phoned in, prompting an evacuation and three schools to be canceled for the day.
“It’s said that we have to keep going through this,” said student Jason Steoan.
“My heart is pounding again. It’s scary,” one parent added.
The threat against the Fox C-6 School District is just the latest example of a rising problem for education and law enforcement communities.
New research uncovered by the 5 On Your Side I-Team shows people are increasingly targeting schools with threats of doing harm.
“In all of the states we found a huge uptick in the 2017-2018 school year compared to the 2016-2017 school year,” said Amanda Klinger, operating director of the Educator’s School Safety Network.
The Washington D.C.-based not-for-profit has been tracking threats of violence and actual violence against U.S. schools. In a Skype interview, Klinger told 5 On Your Side the recent mass shooting inside a Parkland, Florida high school has had a negative effect.
“There was an impact from Parkland, but we were also on a concerning trajectory before Parkland,” she explained.
Specifically, Klinger said there’s been a more than 60 perccent jump in threats against schools in the last year. Of those, about 800 were bomb threats.
But just because they didn’t involve guns, Klinger said there’s still plenty of reason to be concerned.
“If every gun in America magically disappeared tomorrow, we would still have school safety issues," she said.
Much of the reason behind the huge increase, Klinger found, was due to heightened attention around school safety.
“It’s in the media more. It’s in the consciousness more,” she said.
She also said some students who carry out these threats are essentially just copy-cats.
“In our data, we are seeing about a third of the threats we tracked were explicitly saying Columbine by name,” she said.
Next year, the nation will mark the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
But regardless of what might be the motive behind a school threat, and whether it’s just talk or a scare, no amount of preparation is too small for those living through it.
“I’m just glad they’re taking it seriously. You know they’re trying their best,” said one parent in Arnold after picking up their child.
In Missouri, the ESSN reported 57 school threats last year and 120 in Illinois.
Klinger cautions the information is not meant to scare, but she believes the data can help guide the conversation about how to best protect schools and plan for the worst.