Sean found himself in the Principal’s office again for being disruptive in class. Sean, as he was walking home with a suspension notice in his pocket, couldn’t think of anything but how his teacher had it out for him and now he was probably going to get grounded by his mom too.
After reaching an empty home, his mom was still at work, he took out his smartphone and opened Instagram. Anger and frustration welled up inside of him. He found his teacher’s Instagram account. He grabbed her profile image, posted it on his Instagram feed and impulsively wrote, “THIS IS THE UGLY ASS BITCH THAT GOT ME SUSPENDED!” Without a second thought, Sean hit the send button. One like, two likes…23 likes on that post. Sean wasn’t finished, he continued, “THE FIRE INSIDE ME IS BURNING RN AND I WANT TO CUT THAT BITCH.” The moment Sean hit the send button, he committed a felony.
The school threat assessment team and I were alerted by the school because the posts were public. There was no taking them back. Several screen shots of the posts were sent to me. I arrived at Sean’s apartment and sat down with him and his mother. I did a full threat assessment to determine if Sean posed a threat to the school or the teacher. My assessment was that Sean was angry, and in the moment posted those comments with no intention of hurting his teacher. Sean, like most teens, has impulse control problems and has no sense of accountability when using social media.
I wrote a crime report that in time disappeared from his record when Sean successfully completed the classes and counseling appointments in our diversion program. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about his school record. His one-day suspension turned into a five-day suspension, and he was finally expelled. In Sean’s expulsion hearing, I was called to give the facts of my investigation. Sean looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry.” I replied, “I am sorry too, Sean.” It was too late for me to help him. If Sean applies to a college, he will have to disclose that he was expelled for threatening a staff member with great bodily injury or death. Not too many schools are willing to take on that kind of liability.
Sean’s story is only one of many. I have interviewed more than a hundred students during my tenure as a threat assessment professional, and unfortunately many end like Sean’s story. Sean was fifteen and makes mistakes. We all did at that age. But now, Sean is making mistakes on a permanent medium (social media), and often you can’t take back those choices.
In my student assembly, I have an open and frank discussion with students about this problem. Every student that landed in an interview with me always said the same thing, “I didn’t know this could happen to me.” Their juvenile brain couldn’t control their impulsive anger or consider the consequences of their actions. Schools are moving to a zero tolerance position when it comes to threats. There is little room for error on the part of the student or school.
Share my rule with your student: The Airport Rule. All students know this rule when they walk through airport security. We don’t bring weapons into the airport and we don’t say, “I have a bomb, or a gun, or I’m going to cut you, or shoot you, etc.” Any of those words will land you in big trouble. It doesn’t matter if you are joking. We are going to apply the Airport Rule to school and our social media.
Social media provides little to no context to our words. Jokes or violent song lyrics can sometimes be interpreted as a threat. Once a remark online has caused a disruption at the school, the student who made that remark may be subject to school discipline.