Two Osceola County middle school students are facing felony charges for planning a violent attack on fellow students last week.
They claimed it was a joke.
They were arrested by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office anyway.
The incident happened just a day after the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice launched the “It’s No Joke” campaign to tamp down on school threats made by students.
The message: Threatening violence against schools – on paper, on social media or in speech – is a felony.
“There is nothing funny about threatening a school, and there is nothing funny about being charged with a felony,” Juvenile Justice Secretary Simone Marstiller said in a statement. “We want young people think twice before casually threatening violence in their schools.”
The department said there has been an increase in Florida youth being charged with “school threat related offenses” in the last three years.
The uptick applies in Osceola County, too.
The students who were arrested last week were charged with making written threats to kill or conduct a mass shooting, and were booked into the Orange County Juvenile Detention Center.
And there have been at least two other reported investigations into shooting threats at schools in 2019. On Feb. 22, the Sheriff’s Office was investigating social media threats against Celebration High School. Earlier that month, an 11-year-old student was arrested for posting online threats to “shoot up” Neptune Middle School.
Following the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that requires at least one school resource officer in every elementary and middle school and two at every high school.
But school safety doesn’t solely hinge on law enforcement officers on campus, said Osceola County Schools Superintendent Debra Pace
“We have to identify our kids who may need more emotional support and provide it,” she said. I worry that young people who are suffering from something that we may not understand see acts of school violence and think that’s the answer.”
“It all comes back to the need for social-emotional learning and mental health support,” Pace said.
Meanwhile, the law applies to pranksters the same way it does to someone who makes a serious threat.
“Students need to understand that if they’re making casual threats to be funny, or big and bad and cool, we’re taking that seriously,” said Pace.
“We’re putting more resources into investigating everything,” she said. Students should know that even if they’re just playing around, they’re looking at a felony that will follow them for a lifetime.”