Twice within a week in late August two Polk County students were arrested for bringing guns onto campus — one at Auburndale High School and another at Ridge Community High School.
No one was hurt. And for that we can thank people who paid attention. Auburndale police say the arrest there was attributable to a tip from a student who overheard the suspect talking about the gun, while in Haines City, officers credited a teacher who discovered a device for carrying drugs that led to a search that uncovered the weapon.
But paying attention at home is just as important as doing so at school — as Lake Wales Deputy Chief Troy Schulze makes clear in a social media video, released the same week as these arrests. We hope his message sinks in because it's important.
Without specifically mentioning the recent Polk County incidents, Schulze noted that "see something, say something" has proven to be an effective tactic to reduce the risk of violence. He thus encouraged parents to monitor their children's phones and other devices for social media posts that, depending on circumstances, could be construed as bullying or threatening. Schulze added that parents have actually contacted the department inquiring whether it was lawful for them to do so. "You are allowed to check your children's devices," he says in the video. "If your kids are living in your house, their bedrooms, their devices — it's wide open. Check it. ... Parent first, friend second."
"I need you, we need you, the community needs you to be involved," Schulze said to parents in the video.
He pointed out that threatening social media posts, whether so much talk or actual threats, are becoming more common, and carrying consequences.
To underscore that point, coinciding with the start of school last month, authorities in Florida arrested teenagers in Broward, Wakulla and Collier counties for posting threats of violence, typically gun-related, on social media. Outside of Florida, students were arrested in California, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky and Illinois, as well as at colleges in New York and Michigan.
And the frequency and concern about school violence have led authorities to stop trying to guess who might be an actual threat and who is just mouthing off, Schulze suggested. "We take it all seriously," he said. "If the threats are made, if the threats are put out on social media, if they're sent in text messages, if they're sent in private messaging, if we're made aware of it, we're going to act on it. We're taking every one of them seriously."
Then Schulze gets to the crux of the issue: "Parenting starts in the home, not the schools. The schools are a secondary place they go for education." But, he added, all adults around students must be mindful of what they see and hear. "The success and safety of our community is not by chance," Schulze added.
Schulze acknowledged in the video that the First Amendment grants us the right to say pretty much what we please. But freedom of speech, as with all rights, comes with a responsibility. The old standard for the unmentionable was once saying fire in a crowded theater. We have updated that to uttering bomb in an airport or on an airplane. Now, and going forward, expressing violent thoughts on social media will bring a visit from the police.
Words matter, and the spate of violence at schools has left authorities little choice but consider a zero-tolerance policy. Parents can make a difference before cops come calling, however, with a little diligence and loving intrusiveness in the home.