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Our View: Take threats of violence seriously

In an era when shooting up schools actually happens, chatting flippantly about the possibility or joking, especially in front of unknown others, just can't happen.

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

In an era when shooting up schools actually happens, chatting flippantly about the possibility or joking, especially in front of unknown others, just can't happen.

A growing number of students in the Duluth area are learning hard lessons on that after four scares and threats the past week and a half or so at North Star Academy, Lincoln Park Middle School, Denfeld High School, and Cloquet High School. All, fortunately, turned out OK.

In the incident at Denfeld, a student faces possible expulsion and a felony criminal charge after making threatening comments that were overheard Friday and then were the subject of social-media posts late Sunday.

"It was just somebody messing around," Duluth schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth said in an interview with the News Tribune Opinion page. "But just like you can't say certain things in a movie theater and you can't say certain things in an airport, you can't say certain things in a school. ... We do take such things seriously."

We have to after Columbine, after Parkland, and after all the other horrible, tragic school shootings that have happened in between.

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This is why harsh consequences seem often to be appropriate - balanced, of course, with consideration of details that won't be known publicly and with concern for the student's future. But there is the need, too, to send a message to students and others: Making threats, even with no intention of following through, can't be tolerated. Not anymore.

Consider the anxiety and response that followed the Denfeld incident. The social-media post late Sunday prompted phone calls and emails from the district to Denfeld families. And that prompted hundreds of anxious Denfeld parents to make the hard decision to keep their kids home from school.

Fewer than half of Denfeld's students attended classes Monday morning. Those who did go were met by 10 uniformed Duluth police officers who manned hastily set-up tables at the main entrance and who searched backpacks and other bags. Other officers and school district officials worked through the night, viewing surveillance-camera footage to determine the source of the threat and its seriousness.

"Students have to know, these days, that such comments and such posts will be taken very seriously," Gronseth said. "In a day and age when we see the sorts of things we see on the news, we all have a higher level of concern."

Another lesson from this week's incident: if you hear something that concerns you, that troubles you, that worries you, speak up - right away. Don't let it eat at you for two days and then spout off about it on social media, as happened here. Had authorities been notified immediately, the threat could have been investigated and resolved without upsetting hundreds of families, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

"These sorts of things shake people to their core," Tusken, a Denfeld graduate, said in a separate interview with the Opinion page. "It's a time we live in. Parents are very careful. And, clearly, full brain development in kids doesn't happen until they're 25."

All the more reason for kids - and everyone else in the Duluth are - to be reminded: Gun violence, school shootings and other such topics are inappropriate for levity. Comments need to be and will be taken seriously. And consequences promise to be severe.

Related Topics: OUR VIEWMIKE TUSKEN
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