Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
A half dozen or so years ago, Laurel County Schools was hit with a rash of bomb threats at its two middle schools and two high schools, “to the point where it was almost a weekly occurrence,” said Greg Smith, who was deputy superintendent at the time.
School officials worked closely with local first responders, including police and fire departments. “It was just aggravation. We knew it was kids that were doing it,” said Smith, who now is a school safety assessment team leader for the Kentucky Center for School Safety. “We knew there was no substance to the threats, but at the same time, you don’t dare take any chances. You have to be really diligent and be on guard.”
One of the first responders raised the idea of seeking restitution from the parents of the perpetrators, once they were identified, Smith said. The idea won the blessing of the district court judge who would preside over a juvenile case and Smith pulled together the necessary fiscal information from each agency.
Law enforcement and first responders were concerned not only about the cost of response, but about public safety if they were tied up searching a school building when another emergency call came in, Smith said.
Several students were eventually caught through restroom checks every half hour, combined with security cameras. Restitution was successfully levied against the parents as part of the disposition of the cases, Smith said. He could not recall the sum ordered by the judge, but said the cost of time, material and equipment that he calculated ran from $7,000 to $10,000 per incident.
“And let me tell you, the word got around and the bomb threats stopped. It just shut it down,” Smith said.
The state’s juvenile code allows for parents to be ordered to pay restitution for any damages their child causes, said Todd County Attorney Mac Johns, who also is attorney for the Todd County school board.
Besides the cost of response, Johns said there are other ways of calculating restitution. “The way I would contend that you do it is, you have 100 percent absenteeism that day. One of the ways you could do it is just the ADA loss for that day. That would be a pretty good approximation of at least part of the cost.”
But, Johns added, “I don’t know that from a policy standpoint we would accomplish anything substantively by imposing restitution when what we need to do is get to the root causes of why this child would lash out.”