School officials detail how they deal with threats on social media

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continues to be the focus for school safety across the country.

The recent mass shooting created serious questions about threats on social media and mental health in youth as well.

La Crosse superintendent Randy Nelson said schools have to take all threats seriously even if the threat is made on social media.

“We get law enforcement involved,” Nelson said. “We take a look at the situation and we determine the veracity of that threat and we follow through as necessary.”

District officials said it’s not easy to know for sure what a threat means.

“Is this an isolated threat? Is it a threat at all? What we find sometimes is that we find people who make statements to other people to make a point, but it’s not really a threat,” Nelson said.

District officials said a few years back, they received a threat on social media that forced them to close down an entire school.

“It was necessary for us based on a social media threat to make a decision of that nature. We take it very seriously,” Nelson said.

Area mental health experts said these threats can involve students with mental health issues.

“They are not thinking straight,” said Dr. Chelsea Ale, of Mayo Clinic Health System.

Ale said people who are suicidal or depressed fail to process the results of their actions.

“The brain is not activating in typical regions that are associated with planning and associated with think through consequences,” Ale said.

Nelson said the first step is to eliminate the danger of a threat, but also get help for the troubled student.

“Typically, there is discipline that will come alongside of this, and the next issue becomes what kind of support if any is this child getting,” Nelson said.

Experts said awareness goes a long way to identifying a student who is struggling mentally.

“Just checking up and asking regularly, ‘How are you doing these days?'” Ale said.

Nelson said it can’t be up to school districts alone to form relationships with troubled youth.

“It’s a community — It’s a community effort that has to happen,” Nelson said.