JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A day after four Tri-Cities high schools reported fake shooting threats, school administrators and counselors said the experience can impact the mental health of students.
Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee High School in Bristol, Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport and Greeneville High School all reported threats that turned out to be hoaxes. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced it is working with federal and local investigators to determine the source of the rash of hoax calls that impacted schools across the state.
Even though everyone walked away safely, school administrators and counselors said the events on Wednesday can still cause students stress.
Science Hill Counselor Holly English said the lockdown could have been stress-inducing because there was so much students did not know.
“Students will probably feel that emotional response of ‘Okay we’re going into lockdown and we don’t know what’s going on,'” English said. “That emotion of the unknown can be really fearful. That being said, in any kind of situation, I do think that response is a normal response.”
Tennessee High Principal Kim Kirk said it was a scary and uncertain situation for students, teachers and staff.
“No one understands what it feels like to be in a school with a code-red lockdown called until you’ve been in it,” Kirk said.
She said there were tense moments as students waited to hear what was happening. On top of the anticipation, Kirk said some sensory details from the day may also affect them.
“Your students saw lots of police officers with rifles, and they heard a lot of loud noises,” Kirk said. “There were moments they had no idea what was going on, and those are scary moments.”
Most high school students also carry phones, which English said can make the situation seem worse than it really is.
“Information comes in really, really quickly whether it’s accurate or inaccurate,” English said. “That can definitely heighten some emotional experiences for most people.”
As students return to school, English said it is important that parents talk to their children about their experiences.
“They will still be able to feel some of the emotions, talk about their experiences,” English said. “I would encourage parents to talk with your student about what they felt.”
English said as the threat level came down, it also gave school counselors the chance to talk with students about the mental health impact.
“As they get more information, ‘Hey, we’re good. We’re safe. We can come out of a lockdown now,’ that’s when we can kind of move forward in the emotional piece of processing that experience,” English said.
Dobyns-Bennett High School also received a threat, but with less stress as word of the hoax calls got around.
Kayte Daffron, a counselor at DB, said Wednesday served as a reminder of how students should act during threats.
“See anything, say something,” Daffron said. “Be prepared to keep themselves safe.”
English said it’s also important for parents to talk about the security measures at schools so students feel safe.
“There are features in place to keep our kids safe every day and just help the parents encourage the students to remember that those things are already there,” English said.
All of those schools said their counselors are ready to help any students dealing with stress after Wednesday’s events.