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It’s not explicitly a crime to threaten a school, but the Utah State Legislature could change that

Posted at 3:50 PM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-27 19:33:58-05

SANDY, Utah -- At one point, the Canyons School District was responding to as many as three threats against schools every week.

Someone would post a threat on social media, and school officials and police would have to investigate.

"There was an evacuation of Jordan High School in January of last year where we had 2,100 students out on the front lawn," district spokesman Jeff Haney said. "We had to call in buses. We had to transport kids to another location. Sandy police had to divert all their resources to the school. We had to evacuate. We had to search the building."

Nothing credible was found, but it cost the district about $13,000.

"We spent $13,000 in taxpayer money on that evacuation and that response to a hoax threat rather than on the instruction of students," Haney said.

Fed up with it, the district is pushing the Utah State Legislature to pass a bill to crack down on threats. Astonishingly, it is not explicitly a crime in Utah to level a threat against a school.

"There’s a gap in the law. We have a class B threat of violence, or a felony terroristic threat," said Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Murray. "But neither of them are specifically tailored toward schools."

Rep. Stoddard, whose day job is a Murray City prosecutor, is sponsoring the bill that would make threats against a school (both real and hoaxes) a misdemeanor crime. He sponsored a similar bill last year, but ran out of time in the 2019 legislative session.

The bill will return in the 2020 legislative session that begins in January. Rep. Stoddard said he has the support of a number of school districts across the state, each who have had to respond to real or hoax threats.

"I do hope people learn from it. It happens so frequently because people don’t know the consequences of it or the cost of it," he told FOX 13.

The criminal penalties for a threat against a school could be jail time or restitution. However, Rep. Stoddard said he intends to also build into it a requirement for a mental health assessment for whoever makes one.

"It’s all misdemeanor level and, if they’re a student, part of the bill is they’re required to get an assessment," he said. "We don’t want to just send kids to detention or send adults to prison or jail. We want people to get the treatment they need so we can solve the underlying problems."

Haney said the Canyons School District supports that idea, but hopes the overall message is delivered to halt the threats.

"There’s a real issue and we want to send a message. First off, that schools are places where children go and there should not ever be a threat against them," he said.