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baltimoresun.com

Parent notification varied during Harford school bomb threat

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

9:16 AM EDT, October 26, 2012

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Despite increased police presence at five Harford County high schools Wednesday morning, the families of students at only two of those schools were directly notified about a bomb threat that law enforcement officials say had a connection to all five.

One of the schools that did notify parents was C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, which was the only school thought to be directly threatened, the Harford County Public Schools officials and police have said.

The other school that notified parents was The John Carroll School, a private school in Bel Air, whose principal sent a lengthy note home to parents Tuesday afternoon. John Carroll then held a previously scheduled evacuation drill Wednesday morning, but staged it around the time the threat was supposed to be carried out, another school official said Thursday.

None of the threats materialized and, except for heightened security and lower attendance, life at the schools seemed to go on as usual.

Teri Kranefeld, communications director for Harford County Public Schools, confirmed Thursday that no notification was given to parents of students at the three other public schools peripherally connected to the threat: Patterson Mill High and Middle School in Bel Air, Aberdeen High School and Edgewood High School.

The threat warned a bomb would go off at C. Milton Wright at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the note John Carroll Principal Madelyn Ball sent to parents at her school. The threat was apparently connected to another threat discovered Oct. 18 at C. Milton Wright, which was evacuated that day as a precaution.

John Carroll, Patterson Mill, Edgewood and Aberdeen were somehow mentioned in the message, but not directly threatened, sheriff's office spokesman Capt. Keith Warner said Thursday, explaining the law enforcement response.

"The Sheriff's Office had deputies in the area of the schools mentioned but were not part of the threat. We do not know why they were mentioned," Warner said.

"Notification was sent to C. Milton Wright parents as that was the school targeted in the threat," Kranefeld said, explaining the public school system's response to the threat at its schools.

One Edgewood High School parent, Tiffany Kinsler, said in an e-mail sent to The Aegis Thursday that she didn't understand why she and other Edgewood parents weren't informed of the potential threat.

"I am a parent with three children in the Harford County school system. I was made aware of the bomb threat by my daughter who attends Edgewood High School Tuesday evening," Kinsler wrote. "Although our school wasn't a direct target, I strongly feel that we should have been notified as well so that we could have made our children feel comfortable attending school on Wednesday."

John Carroll Vice Principal Gary Scholl said his school chose to inform parents anyway, as well as to evacuate during the time listed in the bomb threat. He also did not know any more about how exactly The John Carroll School was mentioned.

K-9 dogs were used to search the school twice, once at 5 a.m. and again during the first class period, Scholl said, "in case a student might have brought something in with them."

Although an evacuation drill had been previously scheduled for Wednesday, school officials timed it to coincide with the time of the bomb threat, he said.

"Our kids were exemplary. They left the building in absolute silence and remained silent," Scholl added.

The school had perhaps 20 or 30 students show up late, after the time of the threat, after which attendance was basically normal, he said.

"Because we did inform our parents and allow them to make a decision about whether to send their students to school, we did have a large number of students who showed up late to school, after the drill was over," Scholl said.

He also said the school was acting on law enforcement advice and declined to respond to an earlier statement by Kranefeld that John Carroll's note to parents contained "misinformation" and could compromise the investigation.

"We worked closely with police departments, both state and Bel Air town police, and made decisions based on recommendations that they provided," Scholl said. "The school was cleared, and we were fairly certain that the threat wasn't going to be carried out, but when you have got the safety of almost 700 students at stake, you want to be very careful about what you do."

Scholl said the school informed parents about the K-9 search and evacuation, "which certainly made them feel a whole lot better."

"We thought it was important to keep them informed of what we were doing," he added.