Bomb threats taken seriously by school system

By Larry Stanford

March 25, 2014

With three bomb threats, a drug dog search, and one teacher leaving Upson-Lee High School last week, rumors were rampant on Facebook and other social media last Friday. Readers read anything from students being arrested for drugs and guns on campus – it didn’t happen, to 18-19 teachers being dismissed or abruptly resigning – it didn’t happen, to the school system intentionally trying to hide or dismiss the seriousness of the issues – it didn’t happen.

School and Community Relations Director Karen Truesdale spent most of Thursday and Friday last week answering or returning phone calls from parents, trying to cut through all the rumors to explain what actually went on.

Bomb threats - Yes, there were three, one on Wednesday, one on Thursday, and one on Friday. One threat was called into the Sheriff’s Office, the other two were found written on restroom walls in the school. All three times, Principal Tracy Caldwell ordered the entire school population to exit the school while Sheriff’s deputies searched the buildings. All three times nothing was found.

A fourth bomb threat was called into the 9-1-1 Center Monday morning. As in the previous three threats, Principal Tracy Caldwell evacuated students from the building while deputies searched for any suspicious packages, and another phone call was placed to parents. Nothing was found. Upson County is not the only one experiencing bomb threats. Two bomb threats were called into Pike County High School Friday, and another one was called into Pike County High this morning.

Truesdale said that the Thomaston-Upson School System has a GEMA-approved safety plan in place that includes step-by-step procedures for dealing with emergencies such as bomb threats. She said it is up to the school administrators to assess the validity of a bomb report, decide if they want to evacuate the school or just have students stay in their classrooms while the school is searched. Caldwell leaned on the side of caution, having the school evacuated all three times. There is also no policy about calling parents when a threat is received, but after the third time, school and system officials felt the need to let parents know what was going on and what is being done about it, so calls went out Friday.

Upson-Lee High School and Pike County High School are both offering $500 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons making terroristic threats against Upson-Lee High School or Pike County High School. The Upson County and Pike County Sheriff’s Offices are actively investigating the incidents and Upson County urges anyone who may have any information to call the Sheriff’s Office at 706-647-7411.

Drug dog search – Last year the Board of Education and Sheriff Dan Kilgore reached an agreement on drug dog searches of all the schools. The BOE was concerned about possible leaks when set dates were established for the searches, so the agreement was the Sheriff’s Office would make surprise searches. One of those searches happened Thursday morning, before the bomb threat was found Thursday afternoon. Sheriff Kilgore brought in drug dogs from neighboring counties and swept the entire school for drugs. No drugs were found, nor were any weapons found, or any students arrested for possession of either drugs or weapons.

Teachers being fired or resigning – One teacher left Upson-Lee High School last week. Because of personnel and legal issues, the BOE cannot specify who left or why. All other teachers will remain at ULHS until the end of the school year.

This is the time of year when the school system decides which teachers will have their contracts renewed, and which teachers will not. The contract renewals take place now in order to give those teachers whose contracts will not be renewed time to start looking for teaching positions elsewhere. Not coincidentally, this is also the time when teachers who are planning on leaving or retiring give their notices to the school system. So while there may be teachers whose contracts were not renewed or who are planning on leaving, they will be staying at the school until the end of the school year, when their contracts expire.

There are also teachers being reassigned to other schools or positions, based on the needs of the school system. This is also the time when those notifications go out.

Truesdale said if parents have questions or concerns, they can always call the T-U Central Office.

“We are here to serve our students and their parents and guardians,” Truesdale said. “We always appreciate the opportunity to address parental concerns and to make positive changes based on their feedback. Our Superintendent, Dr. Maggie Shook, came here in 2007 with three major goals, one of which was open, honest communication. We all live by that goal at Central Office. I can guarantee that we will do everything in our power to provide our parents and guardians with accurate information. If we don’t know the answer to their questions, we will investigate and get back to them.”

Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.