Schools across the country, including in Miami-Dade and Broward, saw an uptick of threats last year, many of which were made on social media. While school leaders say most online threats usually turn out to be hoaxes, they can still cause worry among parents, faculty and students.
In Michigan, more than a dozen school districts canceled classes in December following the Oxford high school shooting that left four students dead and seven other people injured due to copycat threats. The 2018 Parkland massacre that left 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff members dead is also still fresh in people’s minds.
If you think something is wrong, how do you report it? Who do you contact if your child gets a concerning message or tells you about a classmate’s unusual behavior? What if you see a school threat circulating on social media? Can you stay anonymous?
We spoke with two local experts to find out: Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez and Michael Medina, school security support services director for Broward Schools Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness Department.
Here’s what to know:
‘SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING’: WHY SHOULD YOU?
School district officials are urging families that if they “See Something, Say Something.” That’s because “telltale signs” caught early can prevent a tragedy from happening, Lopez said. “Many times just through a simple conversation we are able to find out if it was a joke, it was a hoax, if it was a misunderstanding, whatever the case was,” Lopez said. “But what we cannot do is afford the risk of not saying something and then something occurs that could have been prevented.”
Lopez’s message to students: “Whether they see it on a wall, whether they hear about it, whether they see it on social media, whatever the case is ... tell the proper authorities so that we’re able to investigate the case and seek the ultimate best solution for the situation.”
HOW CAN STUDENTS AND PARENTS REPORT SAFETY CONCERNS TO MIAMI-DADE AND BROWARD SCHOOLS?
The Miami-Dade and Broward public school districts have several ways students and parents can report safety concerns, including suspicious behavior, sexual harassment or assault, written or verbal threats to harm a school or an individual, and illegal activities. But first: If it’s an emergency, call 911.
In both school districts, students and parents can speak with a school resource officer, teacher, counselor or school administrator about their concerns. School workers are trained to address concerns or forward them to law enforcement.
There are a few other options:
▪ In Miami-Dade, people can call the district’s police command center at 305-995-COPS. The command center, which Lopez describes as the district’s “nucleus for safety,” is open daily. You can also use the FortifyFL app or website to report a concern.
▪ In Broward, visit browardschools.com/securitytips. The website shows reporting options for students and parents, Medina said. You can call the Broward district’s Security Operations Center at 754-321-3500, which is open around the clock, send an email to SecurityTips@BrowardSchools.com, or use the FortifyFL app or website or the Saferwatch app.
CAN YOU MAKE AN ANONYMOUS TIP?
▪ In Miami-Dade, use the Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers website or call 866 471-Tips. FortifyFL also lets you submit anonymous tips.
▪ Broward’s website (browardschools.com/securitytips) has an anonymous tip box. You can use FortifyFL, too. If you opt to call the command center, you’ll have to say that you want to be anonymous. You can also submit an anonymous tip via email to SecurityTips@BrowardSchools.com However, keep in mind that officials will have your email address, although you can still request to be anonymous in your message.
WHAT SHOULD YOU INCLUDE IN A TIP?
Details, details, details. Lopez and Medina say that the more information you provide, the better. Think names, who was present, when and where it happened, and specifics on what was said, written or witnessed. Screenshots can also be a detective’s best friend, especially when researching social media threats.
However, while it’s OK to share a screenshot of a concerning post with law enforcement to report it, don’t repost, retweet or share the post on your own social media. Lopez and Medina say this can slow down the investigation. Plus, you can get in trouble.
WHAT IS THE INVESTIGATION PROCESS LIKE?
Every investigation differs, but in general, here’s how it works: First, officials determine if the nature of the investigation is criminal, such as an active-shooter threat. Then it becomes a collaborative effort between police and employees at the school, such as administrators and counselors.
Every school also has its own state-mandated behavioral threat assessment teams that look into behavioral concerns, Medina said.
Medina said that the district, working with the school, collects relevant information and shares it with law enforcement, who are the “ultimate arbitrators” as to whether or not the investigation needs to continue or what the course of action will be, including if arrests need to be made.
Lopez and Medina said most school threats turn out to be hoaxes. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find out who did it. Detectives could spend a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks looking into a tip.
An online threat, for example, means detectives have to create a “digital roadmap,” Lopez said. This could require subpoenas to get IP addresses of devices, contacting social media organizations, collecting witness testimony and requesting a warrant.
CAN STUDENTS OR PARENTS INQUIRE ON THE STATUS OF AN INVESTIGATION?
Miami-Dade and Broward’s public school districts have several reporting options parents and students can use. Michelle Marchante firstname.lastname@example.org You can ask about the status of an investigation, but you might not get told much, even if you’re the one who submitted a tip.
There are things officials can’t share to protect the privacy of the people involved, as well as to avoid jeopardizing the investigation, according to Lopez and Medina.
However, no matter how you submit a tip, even anonymously, you’ll receive a message notifying you that “we’re following up with it, and you can rest assured that it’s going to be investigated,” said Medina, in reference to Broward’s school district.
I DON’T THINK MY SCHOOL HAS ADDRESSED MY SAFETY CONCERNS. WHAT CAN I DO?
“Like everything else, whether it’s a safety, security or any other topic, we always make sure that we encourage the parents to communicate with their school staff, with their teacher, their principal, to bring up these concerns,” Medina said.
He then reiterated that parents should be assured that Broward’s school district is looking into their concerns. In Miami-Dade, Lopez said parents can speak with a school administrator, such as a principal, or the school resource officer, or call the district’s police command center at 305-995-COPS.
Keep in mind that some investigations take longer than others. And remember, while an investigation could determine there is a threat, it could also find there is no threat.