Ominious threat penned in Conner High School bathroom raises questions about school alert system

HEBRON, Ky. -- An ominous threat penned in a high school bathroom led to questions about the emergency alert system utilized by one Northern Kentucky school district.

The threat was found Monday night in a restroom stall at Conner High School in Hebron, Ky.

While the exact phrasing of the message was not released, school administrators confirmed it was made against all students at the school and indicated something was going to happen Wednesday.

When the messages were found, administrators with Boone County Schools immediately notified local law enforcement officials, according to Mike Levins, Boone County Schools COO and deputy superintendent.

A full investigation into the matter was launched Tuesday. Levins said the school was searched "all day" Tuesday by district officials and deputies from the Boone County Sheriff's Office.

Later that night, a student made a threatening comment toward students and faculty on Facebook.

Parents of students in the district received a phone call from area educational officials on Tuesday. It informed them of the threats and left it up to them to decide whether or not they wanted their child or children to stay home from school on Wednesday, according to Barbara Cain Brady, a spokesperson for the district.

“As soon as faculty learned what was going on the principal called all faculty and parents to notify them exactly what was going on,” she said.

Levins said attendance was down Wednesday but didn't say by how much.

Regardless of number of students who stayed home, it may have been greater if the district used a different notification method. At least that's the belief of parent JoAnn Billiter who said she's frustrated with the way the district relayed the information to parents.

Billiter, who has a freshman and sophomore at the school, said she didn't receive a direct notification from the school.

“I didn’t get any information. There was a phone call sent out (Tuesday) afternoon and one of my children picked it up so the information I got was a third party, from a teenager,” she said. 

The Boone County Schools district uses a "robo-call" system that automatically makes calls and leaves a message with the person who answers the phone or their answering service, according to Brady, who said the protocol in place is "no different" than what they do when they cancel classes because of snow.

“It’s pretty much on the parents to make sure that we know how to get ahold of them. In an emergency like this we have those numbers (we're given). We make those calls. It’s no different than when we have a snow emergency and have to cancel school,” she said.

If someone was "missed," it is likely because they didn't answer the call or listen to their messages, or simply failed to provide the district with the necessary contact information, Brady said.

“The (parents) were all notified. Whether or not they picked up the phone and listened to their messages, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that."

While Brady told WCPO she doesn't know of any complaints about the notification system, Billiter said more needs to be done to notify and prepare parents in "emergency situations."

The school didn't send out emails, post an update on its website or send out an alert on social media, something Billiter said she used to receive when her children attended school in another district.

Nothing was sent out Wednesday after an anonymous callers contacted at Conner Middle School contacted Conner High School and threatened the well-being of people at both institutions, according to Boone County information officer Tom Scheben.

“It’s frustrating because the school district we came from prior to moving here would send out mass emails, multiple phone calls to keep you updated,” she said.

Neither Brady nor Levins commented on the comprehensiveness of the school's alert system nor whether the school district plans to address its parent notification system.

The preliminary investigation led police to the student who made the threatening Facebook post. They were charged with Harassing Communications, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigators are working to determine who wrote the message in the high school bathroom and to see if it's connected to the phone call and the social media update.

In the meantime, extra deputies will be positioned at Conner High School throughout the week as a precaution.

Web editor Jesse Folk contributed to this report.

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