The Anchorage School District has seen a wave of threats this school year, some involving students – each of which has to be investigated, from the initial report to any judicial or academic consequences.

"You just never know," said Joe Zawodny, the district's director of secondary education. "That's why it is taken seriously, each and every time it happens. Nothing is a guarantee; we can't control people."

Surveillance technology helps the district review any incidents among its 50,000-plus students across the municipality. Several of last fall's threats, at middle and high schools, involved graffiti in bathrooms claiming a school shooting was imminent.

"It takes a lot of time," Zawodny said. "When a threat is made and take for instance, the restrooms. There was a lot of video watched and a lot of interviews done. Surprisingly, most of the students come forward with the truth."

What happens to any students involved in threats or acts of violence at school? 

"We have 15 school resource officers throughout the district," said APD Sgt. Rayne Reynolds. "The SRO on site will conduct an investigation just like any other police officer would."

That means police conducting their own interviews, looking at video and having a talk with parents.

"Once they make their determination and if there is probable cause, then they'll forward that over to (the state Division of) Juvenile Justice and they take it from there," Reynolds said.

Under ASD policy, the student is also then suspended or expelled from school. The length of the time away depends on what was done. 

"The suspensions could be quite lengthy," Zawodny said. "That's because we need time for the school to heal. For the students and staff to feel comfortable and safe coming back." 

The district also provides suspended students an opportunity to modify the behaviors involved, and demonstrate that they are not going to continue them when they come back.

"We care about all our students," Zawodny said. "We know people make mistakes and we want them to come back."

ASD also has a number of programs in place for students who are on long suspensions, so they can continue their education at an alternate location.

"They can get support for their education and for their behavior," Zawodny said. "We have programs in place for aggressive behavior, drug and alcohol addiction, any program the students needs."

Many students eventually make a commitment to remedy their behaviors and express an interest in returning to school. At that point, the district works with each student, family and school on a case-by-case basis to make the transition happen. 

A suspended ASD student can not return to any school in the country until the suspension is complete.

"The suspension carries nationwide," Zawodny said. "Even transfers from out of district or state, our districts honors the transferring school and lets the student continue to carry out their suspension here."

District officials say the policy is focused on giving each and every suspended student the opportunity to return and graduate, no matter what kind of mistakes are made along the way.

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