PETERSBURG, FL (December 16, 2019) — A social media post claiming that a student would shoot up a school led to that teen’s arrest. According to Fox 13 News, the fifteen-year-old teenager arrested for the threat did not claim he wanted to shoot up his school. Instead, the juvenile targeted another middle school in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg police detectives did not specify which middle school in the city might have been the target of the threat. St. Petersburg Police placed the juvenile in custody on a felony charge after arresting him. Police say the threat came to light after school resource officers received information about the alleged threat and opened an investigation. 

The Florida legislature enacted a zero-tolerance law regarding crimes and victimization in schools. Section 1006.13 of the 2019 Florida Statutes obligates each school in the state to enact a zero-tolerance policy that defines which acts must be reported to law enforcement, defines which acts pose a threat to the safety and sanctity of the school, and take action to minimize the risk of injury and harm to students and faculty alike.

The law determines when a student must be expelled from school or suspended for at least one year. The student may also receive a placement in the school district’s alternative school program.  Additionally, if any act necessitates reporting to the local law enforcement agency. Those acts include bringing a weapon or firearm to school and making a threat or false report about harming the student body, faculty, or buildings of the school. 

The statute permits the school administrators to use some discretion on whether to expel the student or refer to an alternative school. Also, there is some discretion to decline to refer an incident to police if a threat assessment team determines alternative measures will not endanger anyone at school.

Florida law enforcement agencies have taken threats to harm schools seriously as well. Many departments will use Section 836.10 of the 2019 Florida Statutes to prosecute an offender for threatening to shoot up a school, make a written threat to kill, or commit an act of terrorism. Section 836.10 criminalizes any wiring, communication, inscribed communication, and electronic communication sent or delivered to another person that includes a threat to kill, a threat to do bodily injury, or posts a threat in writing, including in an electronic medium, indicating a threat or intent to conduct a mass shooting or terrorist act. A conviction for any act covered by Section 836.10 is a second-degree felony. The person convicted of this offense may be incarcerated for up to fifteen years. 

Accusations such as these could lead to irrevocable harm done to the student who was playing a joke or a prank or otherwise just trying to get attention. These threats are serious and should be treated seriously by law enforcement. However, law enforcement can issue charges that are too serious for the facts alleged. A crime like disturbing a school assembly, which is incredibly serious, but does not carry the stigma of making a terrorist threat or threatening to commit a mass shooting might be more appropriate in the given circumstances.