OMAHA — Some Nebraska school districts did not receive bulletins warning that schools across the state could be subject to a string of phony shooting reports.
But the apparent communication slipup, according to education officials, did not impede responses to a wave of hoax calls that involved at least 10 schools across Nebraska on Thursday morning, including Lincoln High School.
The Nebraska State Patrol issued multiple bulletins regarding the trend of "swatting," or making a prank call to elicit a large emergency response. Such incidents have occurred across the country in the past month, including in Kansas, Minnesota and Colorado.
Multiple Nebraska districts did not receive the bulletin.
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The bulletin was distributed via email earlier in the week to law enforcement agencies across the state and to the Nebraska Department of Education, said Cody Thomas, a spokesman for the State Patrol.
The previous week, bulletins were sent directly to law enforcement agencies and numerous school districts that are "actively engaged in a growing partnership" with the State Patrol's Nebraska Information Analysis Center, Thomas said.
The Department of Education did not distribute the bulletin to districts because officials felt comfortable with the State Patrol sending it directly, said David Jespersen, department spokesman.
Jespersen said he heard some schools received the bulletin, but it was filtered into "junk" folders. And, he added, the State Patrol may not have as extensive a distribution list as the Nebraska Department of Education.
But overall, Jespersen said emergency response teams and local law enforcement handled the situations well in affected districts.
"The school districts that got the call, there were a lot of different reactions and responses to it and they all did great," he said. "Sometimes people think if an incident happens, everyone should follow this and it's just not reasonable. What's good for one district might not be good for another."
Omaha Public Schools did not receive a bulletin, said Bridget Blevins, OPS spokeswoman.
"We work closely with local and state agencies when there is a safety concern at one of our schools, but we are not aware of anyone in our district receiving a specific bulletin in advance of this week's swatting incidents," Blevins said in an email.
The district follows a standard response protocol for all safety concerns, regardless of whether officials have advanced warning, Blevins said. Officials were grateful for the quick response from law enforcement partners at Omaha South High School on Thursday.
Blevins said there haven't been any other swatting calls in the district in recent years.
While the district does not currently have a formal partnership with NIAC, Blevins said conversations are ongoing on how district officials "can best connect with them on safety matters in the future."
Lincoln Public Schools received the bulletin, but a spokeswoman was unclear on what agency distributed it to the district's security director.
An LPS school was among those subjected to a hoax call Thursday, according to a statement from LPS.
"Lincoln Police, working with our staff, were able to quickly determine the call was a hoax and part of a national trend aimed at disrupting the learning environment in our schools," the statement said.
This wasn't the first time the district experienced a swatting call, said district spokeswoman Mindy Burbach. Another incident occurred last fall.
But the bulletin issued by law enforcement allowed school officials to prepare for a potential incident — and eventually manage things once the hoax call was made, Burbach said.
Kearney Public Schools did not receive a bulletin, but officials did receive a call from the Kearney Police Department last week regarding the trend, said spokeswoman Tori Stofferson. It speaks highly, she said, of the positive relationship between local police and the school district.
Officials at Scotus Central Catholic High School in Columbus received communication from NIAC, but it was filtered into a "junk" folder. Officials never saw notice of the "swatting trend."
"It was troubling yesterday, reading that law enforcement and NDE had received information about this. I felt like we were not privy to this information," said Jeff Ohnoutka, school president.
But Ohnoutka praised local police, who arrived inside the school building in less than one minute from the time the hoax call was placed.
All districts previously were invited to join a partnership between NIAC, the State Patrol, the Nebraska Department of Education and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Public Policy Center.
"A large number have signed on to the effort and NIAC will continue working to add schools to the school safety partnership," Thomas said in an email.
After Thursday's incident, Thomas said the State Patrol has been in communication with numerous schools that are joining NIAC's partnership program, which includes providing threat assessments, safety presentations in schools and situational awareness bulletins.