Superintendent Mary Whitrock: “The team immediately retained the student who had made the threat and secured the student in the office with the principal and law enforcement. This moved the threat away from other students and staff.”
Superintendent Mary Whitrock: “The team immediately retained the student who had made the threat and secured the student in the office with the principal and law enforcement. This moved the threat away from other students and staff.”

     A brief email Ripon High School Principal Randy Hatlen sent out the Friday before Christmas reported that a student had threatened to shoot eight students. After administrators assessed the situation, they questioned the student. The investigation showed no “means to harm students named in the threat,” Hatlen wrote. After being questioned extensively, the student was removed from school grounds while the eight students named and their parents were notified about what had transpired.  

     That email provided a brief synopsis of what had occurred, but it left more questions to be answered...

     The Commonwealth submitted seven follow-up questions to the Ripon Area School District about the matter for its Dec. 28 edition. It answered all seven. Likewise, it submitted six questions to the School Resource Officer (SRO) and now Ripon Police Sgt. Lindsey Michels, who responded to all of them.

     But additional questions remained, less about this matter in particular, than about how a school district deals with a potential threat. We posed those questions Tuesday afternoon in an interview with School Superintendent Mary Whitrock and Hatlen as well as to Michels. Their answers are below.  
                                                        — Tim Lyke

*     *     *

     1. In an incident such as this, when do you notify police?
     Whitrock: Ripon is fortunate to have SRO Michels right in the building so often times she is actually hearing or receiving information right at the same time as administration.

     2. How does the safety risk to students factor into your reaction plans?
     Whitrock: That is job No. 1. The Violent Risk Assessment document reflects best practices for responding to threats. The District’s Safety Team members meet at least monthly to review procedures such as this and make recommendations for updates.

     3. How do you measure the preliminary credulity of the threat ...?
     Hatlen: In this case, the messages shared by the upstanding student who reported the threat included the names of the student making the threat and the eight students being targeted so we could take some immediate action. ... We were very fortunate we knew the time the message was sent — it had happened just minutes before. That helped us expedite the process.

     4. What considerations come into play to help you determine whether to implement a lockdown, evacuation or to handle it quietly as you did through a Violent Risk Assessment Team?
     Michels: Ripon utilizes two types of lockdowns: a soft lockdown and a hard lockdown. The soft lockdown is most often used in situations involving an outside threat or a threat in the surrounding area ... A hard lockdown is used for an active threat only if an evacuation isn’t an option. If an active threat occurs in one part of the building, a looping message is sent out over the intercom announcing there is a threat within the building and staff are able to make a decision in terms of how best to keep students in their areas safe. Since the incidents at Columbine and Sandy Hook — a run, fight, hide response is used rather than simply locking students and staff in rooms. ...

     To read the entire editorial, see the Jan. 4, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.