Action News Investigation: Violence, threats common at schools across area

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School massacres have changed the way most of us think about school violence. (WPVI)

School massacres have changed the way most of us think about school violence.

In the wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook, districts tightened security across the country.

Action News looked into allegations that cuts in Pennsylvania's education funding could be slashing our standards for school safety.

You might not imagine that assaults against teachers and terroristic threats are a daily occurrence at schools across our area and even in the suburbs.

But an Action News Investigation has learned these threats are very real and in some cases very terrifying.

The question is, are they being taken as seriously as they should be?

In a normally quiet area of a Philadelphia suburb, there was a threat made inside an elementary school earlier this year that sent shivers down the spines of staff members.

"A student made a pretty significant threat, that he wanted to go into a teacher's house, tie up their wife and kids and make them watch while he murdered them," a teacher, who we've agreed not to identify, said.

He is speaking out for the first time only with Action News.

A 12-year-old boy allegedly detailed his plot to other students, to murder his math teacher and shoot another educator as well.

Two pictures allegedly found on the boy depicted a disturbing and violent plan.

"This student drew pictures kind of indicating some aspects of that plan. Also drew a picture depicting himself shooting his homeroom teacher in the head," the teacher said.

But, after a short three day suspension and a letter apologizing saying his actions were out of "anger," educators say the student was back in the same teacher's class.

"I was in fear of my safety. I mean we are talking about a very capable male who could carry out these types of actions," the teacher said.

Then just two short days after returning to class, the teacher said the boy brought a look-alike weapon to school - a switch-blade replica, which turned out to be a comb.

"He was brandishing it on the playground...pretending and using it as a switchblade," the teacher said, adding, "Again the school board policy states that a weapon or a weapon replica should result in a minimum of a one year expulsion."

The teacher is concerned because after another short suspension he says, the boy was simply transferred to another elementary school inside the district, where he says his new teacher and other kids' parents were never warned about the previous threats.

Raeann Simmons, President of the Parent Teacher Organization, says she spoke to the school board.

"I said my child's teacher, her fellow classmates, and herself are in danger and yet you are not doing anything," Simmons said.

But Simmons says in spite of complaints, the school board failed to follow their own policies and procedures.

"If something like that happens, the blood is on your hands," Simmons said.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association represents teachers. Spokesperson Wythe Keever says after Columbine and Sandy Hook, most schools instituted zero tolerance policies when it came to threats.

That resulted in an increase in the numbers of suspensions and expulsions of students. And with it came a large bill for alternative education.

"All threats should be taken very seriously. There is a school funding crisis, it affects school safety and it needs to be addressed," Keever said.

Action News crunched numbers from the Department of Education's records.

We found in the five counties surrounding Philadelphia, the numbers of Assaults on Staff have gone up in the last three years, but the number of Out of School Suspensions for Violence has dramatically dropped.

"Placement in alternative programs is very expensive," Keever said.

We also mapped where the threats were occurring, detailing on a school by school basis where the violence is taking place.

Click the interactive map to to find your child's school and see the most recent data we've complied for each school for last year.

We've chosen not to identify the school in this case to protect the minor's identity. But records show threats against teachers and students are happening across the area, including some of our most affluent suburbs.

"No, I don't feel safe. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing," the teacher said.

In the case of this 12-year-old boy, the district provided Action News a statement saying they: "Followed all applicable code, policy, and procedures..." and said, "Both law enforcement and the school district carefully evaluated both situations...It was determined that no credible threat existed in either case."

"If this is not a terroristic threat, then I'm not sure what is," the teacher said.

"It scares me," Simmons said

The school district also said they did place the youngster in another school to "give him a fresh start," and said they are under no legal obligation to notify teachers of threats deemed non-credible.

Are there threats being made at your children's school?

Access our interactive map to find your child's school and see the most recent data we've complied for each school for last year.
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