FOR OFFICIALS at Arundel High School to wait 1 1/2 hours Tuesday before they alerted police to a bomb threat was inexcusable. The breakdown, and problems in responses to earlier threats, indicates that the system's policy on these matters is disorganized and in need of an immediate fix.
Top administrators, to their credit, seem to recognize the problem and have scheduled meetings with the state fire marshal on how to deal with bomb threats. School officials have no choice but to take the threats seriously, whether they believe them legitimate or not.
Educators at the school in Gambrills have a right to feel besieged. Last month, a smoldering firebomb was found in a locker the same day Gov. Parris N. Glendening visited. A 16-year-old has been charged in that crime. Last week, the school received two threats, both false alarms.
But it was troubling to hear that Arundel High personnel spent a considerable amount of time Tuesday frantically phoning school headquarters to seek advice and direction on how to handle the situation. After three threats this school year, one would think, officials have more hands-on experience they they'd like.
Also puzzling is that the school system took 90 minutes to notify police and emergency services. Calling the police should have been one of the first actions. From previous cases, officials know it takes at least 30 minutes to get a bomb-sniffing dog to the school. Any additional delay means it will take that much longer before students and staff can return to class.
To Arundel High's credit, its handling of Tuesday's early dismissal was more orderly than last week. Students were able to return to class to pick up their things and buses were able to transport them home without confusion.
The Board of Education should install a Caller ID system at every school and advertise that it can trace any incoming call. Students might think twice about calling in threats, and those who do, could be more easily identified and prosecuted. Even if they make a call at a public phone away from their home, they increase the chance someone will see or hear them.
The system has a duty to make it more difficult for the perpetrators to disrupt the business of education, but foremost to ensure the safety of students.
Pub Date: 4/17/97