A wave of online threats impacting Midlands schools led multiple Lexington County campuses to announce changes to their schedules Feb. 2.
An arrest has been made after a wave of online threats impacted Midlands schools this week and led multiple Lexington County campuses to announce changes to their schedules Feb. 2.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department announced the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia accused of sending threats to schools in Richland and Lexington counties.
"The investigation revealed that a 15-year-old student was responsible for the threats," a release from the department states. "All threats are deemed to be a hoax and done with the intent to disrupt the schools daily operations.
"The juvenile has been arrested and charged with threatening to use a destructive device; conveying false information regarding attempted use of a destructive device; student threats and disturbing schools."
At least 10 schools in the Midlands, six in Lexington County, received threats. A representative for the Richland County Sheriff's Department said the student arrested is believed to be tied to all of them.
The student was taken to the juvenile wing of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center after the arrest.
“We take these cases very seriously, and individuals involved will be charged and taken to jail,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott is quoted. “We are working closely with Lexington authorities to identify individuals involved on their schools threats as well. This should serve as a warning to anyone else that wants to make threats that when we identify you, and we will, you will be charged and taken to jail.”
Schools in Lexington County Districts 1 and 2 and Lexington-Richland District 5 were impacted, with Lexington 1 moving four schools to e-learning Feb. 2 in response to threats.
The Lexington Technology Center and River Bluff High School made the call not to have students on campus after district administrators were made aware of online threats directed at the schools, Libby Roof, chief communications director for Lexington County School School District 1, told the Chronicle.
Later in the morning, a similar threat was made at White Knoll High School, leading to the school switching to e-learning as well.
The three Lexington 1 high schools affected have a total of 6,811 students, according to the latest head counts available form the state Department of Education. The technology center brings in students from multiple other Lexington 1 schools for classes.
According to Libby Roof, Lexington High School was included in the e-learning decision due to sharing a campus with the technology center.
Roof said law enforcement was immediately contacted and involved.
The district website notes that searches of the campuses were conducted as a precaution. All other district schools operated Feb. 2 on their normal schedules.
“We continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the investigation into the source of the threats continues.” she told the Chronicle.
According to a Facebook post from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, White Knoll and the technology center were cleared of any threats. Roof told the Chronicle that River Bluff has also been cleared of any threats.
The post details that extra deputies were on campus assisting with investigating the threats.
“Multiple law enforcement agencies are dealing with similar situations today,” the post states.
After the school day ended Geritta Postlewait, Lexington 1’s superintendent, sent a note out to families and staff, which was provided to the Chronicle.
“Today was a challenging day for our students, employees and of course, families. Reports of bomb threats and the decision to switch to e-learning with little notice undoubtedly caused stress and anxiety,” she writes. “We felt that it was important for all families to receive an update after what occurred today at some of our schools.”
According to Postlewait, the affected schools will resume a normal schedule Feb. 3.
“We are thankful that the students and staff from Lexington High, Lexington Technology Center, White Knoll High and River Bluff High are safe. We are also grateful for the calm heads and quick responses of all who played a part today,” she continues. “Our students, teachers, bus drivers, school and district employees and our families are to be commended for the patience, cooperation and teamwork demonstrated during a difficult time.”
Postlewait adds that law enforcement agencies at a state and federal level are investigating this week's threats that disturbed many districts across the state and that threats against the schools will not be tolerated.
According to Dawn Kujawa, public information officer for Lexington 2, Airport High School received an email threat shortly before noon.
“The school was placed on a hold, with students and teachers remaining in place in their rooms for instruction and activities. Families were notified.” a press release states, “During the hold, we worked to distribute lunches to classrooms. Additional law enforcement officers were on the Airport campus.”
The press release states that at around 1:30 p.m., due to the disruption of the school day, the school began a staggered dismissal.
Near the end of the school day, Brookland-Cayce High School was mentioned in a threat on social media. According to the release, law enforcement was immediately contacted and appropriate actions are being taken.
The two Lexington 2 high schools affected have a total of 2,508 students, according to the latest head counts available from the state Department of Education. Both campuses have canceled after-school activities.
“Threats are disruptive and upsetting to students, families, teachers, and administrators. Lexington 2 does not tolerate any action that jeopardizes the safety of our schools, and we remain vigilant in investigating every threat, in concert with our law enforcement partners,” the release states.
Irmo Middle School in Lexington-Richland 5 was placed on a modified lockdown due to a suspicious email, said Amanda Taylor, director of communications for the district.
A modified lockdown means that students and staff were able to move freely within the school, but visitors were not permitted.
Law enforcement, district and school personnel confirmed that the email was a hoax and the modified lockdown was lifted at the conclusion of the school day. The school will operate as normal Feb. 3.
“The safety of our students and staff is always the number one priority in School District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties, and all threats are taken seriously and treated with the highest level of caution,” Taylor said. “In light of the recent safety-related events around the Midlands, School District 5 has reviewed its safety protocols with school administrators and has been communicating with our partner law enforcement agencies.”
The rash of online threats had already been forcing changes at schools outside Lexington County. In Richland County School District 2, Richland Northeast High School, Spring Valley High School, Dent Middle School, E.L. Wright Middle School and Muller Road Middle School all announced changes to their schedules and student status in the last three days in response to threats.
Lexington County School District 3 didn’t experience any threats Feb. 2 but is on high alert, according to Mackenzie Taylor, the district’s director of public information and community relations.
“Lexington 3 officials are aware of the threats occurring at other local school districts today [Feb. 2],” Taylor writes “As a result, our SROs and school administrators have been placed on alert and per our safety training, will urgently report any potential threat to law enforcement and district officials. “
This is a developing story and will continue to be updated. Jordan Lawrence contributed to this report.
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