A string of threats at Hamlin Middle School has put parents on edge.
According to information from Orange County Public Schools, three of the four threats at the school in the past year occurred in April.
The threats, which occurred Dec. 15, 2022, April 5, April 6 and April 14, all were found to be unsubstantiated, according to OCPS.
According to information from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, since the beginning of the school year, six incidents have been reported related to school threats.
The Sheriff’s Office said all were unfounded — not a credible threat — school shooting or bomb threats.
The Sheriff’s Office on Friday, April 14, received information of an alleged threat at the school via the FortifyFL App, a reporting tool that allows the user to relay information to law enforcement and school officials regarding suspicious activity.
Based on the information received, there was an increased presence of school resource officers on campus. The Sheriff’s Office conducted a general investigation and determined the threat was not credible.
“We understand the community is rightfully concerned about threats of violence at our schools,” Sheriff’s Office officials said in a prepared statement. “We take these threats very seriously and will continue to work with OCPS to provide a safe and secure campus.”
Neil Williams, parent at Hamlin Middle, reached out to officials from the school district and the Sheriff’s Office on April 14, requesting information surrounding the recent threats.
“Over the last three weeks, there have been multiple reports of threats being made against our school,” Williams wrote in an email. “As a result, many parents and teachers are understandably worried about the safety of our children. I am hoping you can provide me with more information about these threats.”
Suzanne Knight, principal at Hamlin Middle, responded to Williams by email April 14. Knight said when she sends out messages to parents communicating a threat, she shares the format as to how the threat was received and law enforcement is immediately contacted. She said the school’s SRO is an Orange County deputy who works full-time at the school.
“Student safety is our priority,” Knight wrote in the email. “All entries to the school are locked and secured. Visitors must enter the front office and are not able to enter the building without checking in and meeting clearance through our sign -in system. … In addition, OCPS has partnered with Gaggle to help support student safety and well-being when students are using their OCPS Google Workspace for education and Microsoft accounts. OCPS will use the Gaggle Safety Management solution for Google Workspace for Education and Microsoft OneDrive to proactively help ensure students are safely and correctly using school-provided digital tools.”
Albina Buist, parent at Hamlin Middle, said she has kept her daughter home on the days when a threat was reported.
“I’m not really sure they’re doing much about it or taking it seriously enough … kids still go to school on those days,” she said. “The school should be shut down if there’s a threat of any kind. I called the school the day it happened and they were pretty laid back about it and would not tell me any details except that the situation was under control.”
The Sheriff’s Office said it has generated informational reports, alerted the appropriate units at the agency and more to combat the threats.
“(Because) all of the threats were found not to be credible, no further law-enforcement action was taken (like an arrest),” Sheriff’s Office officials said. “But the school may have disciplined students administratively.”
Sheriff John Mina also replied to Williams’ email April 18.
“Throughout the weekend, FortifyFL tips continued to be generated with similar information,” he wrote. “An incident report was completed. … The OCSO will have an increased presence at the school in the days to follow.”
That can mean an extra deputy on campus, increased patrols in marked cars in the area and increased attention paid to the area by unmarked vehicles.
“There is nothing more important to me and to my deputies than ensuring our children are safe in their schools,” Mina said in a prepared statement. “I am confident in saying that in OCPS, we have some of the best trained deputies and officers anywhere. But we also rely on students, parents and school personnel to let us know about anything troubling they see or hear. I am glad parents are engaged in school safety, and I have no doubt that our school resource deputies, with their depth of knowledge, training and experience, will continue to keep our kids safe.”
BAD FOR BUSINESS
Although the Sheriff’s Office said there has been no increase in threats district-wide, or in any particular area, some local businesses have voiced concern about inappropriate behavior by students in the area outside of school.
Jennifer Pelcher, owner of Abbott’s Frozen Custard in Hamlin, posted about several instances on Facebook.
“I really hate to have to post this, however, I feel the need to,” she wrote. “There is a group of middle school aged boys (I believe students at Hamlin Middle) that come into Abbott’s on a regular basis and harass me and my employees. In addition, they disturb my customers. This is not OK. A couple of these boys ride electric scooters. They come in and try to reach around the glass to take candy, they bang on my shop windows and they are loud and disruptive in my shop as well as very disrespectful.”
Although she said the group of about five boys has been identified and the parents have reached out to her, she is also aware other businesses in the area have encountered the boys, and she has plans to reach out to those businesses as well as the authorities.
Pelcher said she also has heard the boys have been kicked out of Huey Magoo’s and Jeremiah’s Italian Ice. She said her employees also have told her the boys are banned from Toastique and Mogee Tea.
“My thought on first steps would be for an officer to meet with the boys, perhaps have a talk with them regarding the consequences of their actions,” she said. “Some of these kids are quite young, they need to know the negative impact they are having on their community. Maybe even have them participate in some community service, picking up trash, things like that.”