Rocky Plains Elementary School may have been cleared after a prank call warned the school of a bomb in the building, but the Newton County School System is under fire from several parents who are furious they had to learn of the threat through Facebook.
The call came in to the school around 11:30 a.m., and school officials immediately called 911. Newton County Sheriff’s Office and Newton County Fire responded and all 800 children were evacuated from the school for roughly an hour while it was searched by authorities. After the building was cleared, the students were brought back in.
A school messenger call went out around 1:45 p.m.
“Where is the calling tree when you need it?” Commented Dusty Wheeler Honeycutt on The News’ Facebook story. “Apparently Newton County can call by house at 9 o’clock p.m. every night with unimportant update on the school, but I had to find out about a bomb threat to my children by Facebook?”
And parent Andrea Cummings said, “I feel that the district who was completely safe in their building should have alerted parents as soon as our children were considered in danger...I understand Rocky Plains was busy getting our children to safety but no excuse for the district to have not stepped in. This supposedly happened around 11-11:15 and we just got notification calls at 1:45. UNACCEPTABLE!”
Davis-Viniard explained that a school messenger call takes not only a phone, but a computer as well, and that it takes roughly 20 minutes to get one set up and sent, but that parents were notified as quickly as possible given the situation.
“Our goal in any crisis situation is to provide accurate information as quickly as possible to parents; however, students will always come first. In this situation, we had to evacuate a building so administrators and teachers were busy overseeing that and ensuring the safety of the children. A call couldn’t be made at the school because a computer is needed to make school messenger calls and everyone was outside the building due to the bomb threat. Because it happened during lunch, people were also out of the building at the central office. I was notified that someone was needed to make a school messenger call so I came back to the office. It can take 15-20 minutes to do a school messenger call because you have to write your script, log in, select the type of call, the recipients, have the computer call you and then record and finalize the options for the call. Once I got all of the information from the school a call was recorded and placed. Information was also given to the media at the same time as the media is also a source of providing information quickly. In this case they had the capability of providing it faster than the call could even be established.
“In a nutshell, we will always place student safety first and foremost. We will do everything in our power to notify parents as quickly as possible as soon as we have accurate information. It is impossible for us to call the exact minute a crisis has happened as the first thing we have to do is deal with the crisis.”
In response to a similar explanation by Davis-Viniard on the Facebook conversation, parent Destiny Vandeweghe said, “Mrs. Viniard, no offense to you personally, but some of those teachers had cell phones, and I’m sure the Board of Education knew about this immediately. I knew what was going on before I left the school with my daughter. Yes, they got the kids out safely and quickly, but what if it wasn’t a prank and the school actually blew up? Would they have waited till it was clear to put out the call to parents?”
According to NCSO 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell, investigators are looking into the call and who made it. Phoning in a bomb threat to a school is a felony and the caller can be charged with terroristic threats and disruption of a school. Anyone with information is asked to contact the NCSO at (678) 625-1400 or online at www.newtonsheriffga.org. All tips can be given anonymously.