School leaders face new challenges with safety in today's world of social media.
Threats have become rampant. In Santa Rosa County, Superintendent of Schools Tim Wyrosdick said he gets a call about four to five times a day about a threat made via social media.
"Out of 38 different sites and 30,000 children, five times a day is not really a large problem, but it is," Wyrosdick said. "One of those could be the threat that we have to deal with very intimately. We've reached a point where we need to engage that problem in the school system."
In the past year in Okaloosa County, more than 10 students have been arrested for threatening the safety of other students. Some of them initiated the threat through social media.
In January 2018, a 13-year-old girl was arrested for threatening to shoot up Ruckel Middle School and kill students. The girl was charged with making a false report to use a firearm in a violent manner, a second-degree felony.
The arrest was reported by two witnesses who told sheriff's deputies that they were scared after the girl announced during second period that she was going to kill them, shoot up the school and that she didn’t like white people, according to her arrest report.
In February 2018, a 13-year-old Pryor Middle School student was charged with making a threat to kill or do bodily harm after sending a social media post that said, “I want to shoot a school.”
In March, 15-year-old Jabari Imani was detained by Crestview High School’s school resource officer after information developed that he might have a handgun. A .22 caliber Ruger revolver was found in the Iman's waistband but was not loaded. A half dozen .22 caliber rounds were found during a search of Imani’s backpack, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said.
In February, a fifth-grade student at Shalimar Elementary School was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill another student. Classmates reported the fifth-grader asked where a third-grader lived because he planned to get his father’s shotgun and kill her, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Incidents like those are typically reported in a database called the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) System.
This system includes data reported by school districts to the Department of Education on 26 incidents of crime, violence and disruptive behaviors that occur on school grounds, school transportation, and at school events during a 24-hour period throughout the year.
According to SESIR data, Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties reported a total of 1,621 incidents.
The top incidents in Okaloosa County in 2018-19 that were reported to law enforcement were drug possession and threat or intimidation. In Santa Rosa, the top were battery, drug possession, fighting and possession, use, distribution or sale of tobacco. The top in Walton were tobacco and drug possession.
However, not all incidents are guaranteed to be reported to SESIR.
But when a threat is reported, how does a school district move forward?
In Walton County, Charlie Morse, the school safety specialist, said they follow the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines, which was created after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
The Virginia model used to asses threats relies heavily on mental health counselors, of which the county has hired five in the last year.
"If you look at the history of some of these active shooters, a lot of them didn't have an opportunity to get some mental health services," Morse said. "Early on if kids are thinking of harming themselves or others, then they definitely need to be talking to someone."
Daniel Hahn, the director of safety in Santa Rosa County, said the district doesn't count threats, but rather counts visits to the psychologist, which totaled 109 in 2018-19.
"I've been doing exciting listening sessions with students in high school and the eighth grade," Hahn said. "They are the stakeholders, right?"
Threats to school safety coincide with mental health counseling. Mental health issues affect about 1 in 10 children and young people, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers said principals recently went through a two-day mental health training.
"Now, they can identify students who might be struggling," Chambers said.
Mental health issues common among students include depression, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and eating disorders, the United States Department of Health reports.
Walton County Superintendent of Schools Russell Hughes said thanks to mental health funding from the state, the School District has bolstered its staff.
"This adds a layer of awareness," Hughes said. "We can protect students from themselves and from hurting others."