KEARNS — An unrelenting focus on student safety allowed the smooth transition from a drill to a soft lockdown at Kearns High School on Thursday, according to district officials.
The school was locked down for a short time Thursday morning after a student issued a bomb threat toward the school over Twitter. Since the student was known to be off campus, the lockdown was "soft," meaning no one was allowed on or off campus, but students could move within the school.
Ben Horsley, Granite School District's communications director, said the district had been contacted by multiple students and parents expressing appreciation for both the district's and Unified Police Department's actions to suppress the threat.
Some students who knew the 17-year-old male took to social media to defend him, though, saying the tweet in question "was not a direct tweet about the school" and that the student in question was "one of the nicest kids ever" and "not capable of blowing up a school."
Horsley said he spent "the better part of (Thursday) afternoon" responding to those students, who felt the district had wronged a student who was "just making a joke."
"We can't take it as a joke," he said. "When someone sends out a tweet that talks about blowing up a building, and has pictures of explosives, how are we supposed to know that's a joke?"
He said the district has been criticized in part because some are assuming Kearns High should have known who the student was and known he was kidding. But it was not the school that first found out about the offending tweet — it was an anonymous tipster who called the Unified Police Department.
"At that point, that's out of our hands," Horsley said. "Making a threat like that is not a joke; it's a felony. How the student interacted and how he made that threat it's a legal matter at this time."
Parents of Kearns High students have reacted differently to the lockdown, with many posting their appreciation on the Granite School District Facebook page.
"Thank you for handling the situation so well and not taking it lightly," said Angela Grange. "Safety of our kids should be number one."
Others expressed their appreciation that the situation had been taken care of quickly and that someone had taken the time to notify the district of the threat.
"We had notified parents in advance that the drill was coming, but when we went into soft lockdown, I think it made it real for a lot of people," Horsley said. "Even though in this case, there were questions about whether he was joking, we can't distinguish between a joke or a threat, or we would be jeopardizing student safety."
The district, which utilizes 16 officers at its 92 schools, has increased the amount of lockdown drills it has had since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, taking the lives of 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Adam Lanza, had killed his mother before entering the school.
The tragedy has led to a nationwide debate about gun control and what schools can do to prioritize student safety.
"There will be no compromise on student safety," Horsley said. "Doing these drills and taking these threats seriously — just putting those things into memory, how you act in this situation when it happens, will make it much safer for (the students) when the actual occurrence happens."