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It's an unfortunate byproduct of our high-tech age: the internet provides new ways to harass and intimidate. The entire Minneapolis school system and several schools in St. Paul learned that the hard way on Wednesday when more than 60 buildings were locked down after shooting threats appeared on social networking websites.
A caller told Minneapolis police early Wednesday morning that an online warning said a male would ''shoot up the school and then shoot himself.'' Shortly after evaluating the threat with police, school district leaders imposed a "Code Yellow,'' which means students were locked in, but classes continued as usual. Automated phone and e-mail updates were sent to parents several times during the day, and school staff carefully monitored those who entered or left buildings.
For their prompt, efficient response, kudos to Minneapolis and the St. Paul schools. Based on most reports, school and law enforcement staff did an excellent job of monitoring those coming and going from schools, informing families and ensuring that learning continued without interruption. As an extra precaution, Minneapolis officials continued the lockdown through Thursday morning, then lifted it in the afternoon.
Officials at three St. Paul schools -- two private, one public -- also deserve praise for the handling of what appears to have been a related threat on Wednesday. Cretin Derham Hall staff notified St. Paul police early in the day after receiving an e-mail about a shooting threat to "Derham high school'' online. Cretin staff notified the nearby Expo elementary (located in the old Derham Hall building) and St. Paul Academy and Summit so those schools also secured their doors while keeping classes in session.
Police authorities in both cities established that the warnings came from a computer in Australia and could have been sent by a teenager as a hoax.
Threats to schools on Facebook and other social sites have become increasingly common, according to state school safety experts. Within the past month, online rumors of school shootings in Inver Grove Heights and Farmington caused alarm, but were unfounded. However, the tragic school shootings in Columbine, Colorado, and closer to home in Cold Spring and Red Lake have taught us to be more vigilant about assessing potential gun violence in schools.
"Years ago, when there was a bomb or any other kind of threat, we evacuated the school and had kids standing around for an hour or two waiting for the all clear. Now we know they can be safer staying inside,'' said Mike Siitari, director of the state's school safety center. ''Minneapolis and St. Paul did a very impressive job of securing the schools and notifying families - and the learning environment was not disrupted.''
Local school and law enforcement staff struck the right balance between taking a threat seriously and keeping schools running smoothly. Well done.