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School Threats in Texas

School Threats in Texas: The Crimes and Consequences

Southlake officials canceled classes at two high schools on Wednesday after learning of a potential threat of a school shooting.

Officials said the threat involved a message written on a bathroom school door “by someone referring to the STARR test and a potential school shooting” on Wednesday.

Police are investigating the incident, and no one has been taken into custody. Still, the person(s) responsible for the threat could face criminal charges—regardless of whether it was a hoax to disrupt a test or whether they are a juvenile or an adult.

In this article, the criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett explain the various types of offenses that could stem from making school threats in Texas, which are often pranks or false alarms but are still taken extremely seriously by law enforcement and school officials. Juvenile law expert Lisa Herrick also details the procedures and legal processes involved when a minor is taken into custody.

What Constitutes a School Threat?

A school threat is any statement, action, or behavior that expresses an intent to harm students, teachers, or staff at a school. This can include written messages, verbal statements, social media posts, drawings, or physical acts. The intent may be direct and specific, such as naming a particular person or group, or it may be more general and vague.

It is important to note that even if the person making the threat does not have the means or intent to carry out the act, their actions can still be considered criminal offenses. This is because any threat of violence against a school community causes fear and disrupts the learning environment for students.
Types of School Threats

Types of School Threats

Making a threat to a school can result in different criminal charges depending on the nature and severity of the threat. Here are some examples of school threats and their potential consequences:

Terroristic Threat

According to Section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits an offense if they threaten to commit any crime of violence to any person or property with the intent to:

  1. Cause a reaction of any type by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies;
  2. Place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
  3. Prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building, room, place of assembly, place to which the public has access, place of employment or occupation, aircraft, automobile, or other public place;
  4. Cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service;
  5. Place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or
  6. Influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state.

Depending on the facts and circumstances, making a threat against a school or a student can certainly fall under this statute. The severity of the offense and punishment depends on the specific intent and target of the threat, ranging from a Class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Read more about terroristic threats here and please take a minute to watch this video by Board Certified Juvenile Lawyer Lisa Herrick who explains when online bullying or banter can cross the line into making a terroristic threat.

Making a False Alarm or Threat

According to 42.06 of the Texas Penal Code, making a false alarm or threat  is committed if a person knowingly initiates, communicates or circulates a report of a present, past or future bombing, fire, offense or other emergency that he or she knows is false or baseless and that would ordinarily:

  1. cause action by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies;
  2. place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or
  3. prevents or interrupts the occupation of a building, room, place of assembly, place to which the public has access, or aircraft, automobile or other mode of conveyance.

The severity of the punishment for making a false report or alarm depends on where the false alarm is reported to have occurred, not the location of the actor. If the false report involves a public or private institution of higher education or involves a public primary or secondary school, the offense is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and up to a $10,000 fine. If the alarm or false report involves any other location, it is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

For example, pulling a fire alarm in a high school to get out of a test or calling in a false bomb threat at a university would be a state jail felony. Learn more about making a false alarm or threat.

Hoax Bombs

Under Texas Penal Code Section 46.08, a person commits an offense if they knowingly manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, or possesses a hoax bomb with intent to use the hoax bomb to:

  1. make another believe that the hoax bomb is an explosive or incendiary device;  or
  2. cause alarm or reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies.

This statute could apply if the threat to the school involves a fake bomb or even dropping a note saying there is a bomb in the school. Using a hoax bomb is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines. Read more about hoax bombs in Texas.

Disruption Activities/Disruption of Classes

Texas Education Code Section 37.123 makes it an offense for a person, alone or in concert with others, to intentionally engage in disruptive activity on the campus or property of any private or public school. Disruptive activity includes:

  1. Obstructing or restraining the passage of persons in an exit, entrance, or hallway without authorization from the school administration;
  2. Seizing control of a building or portion of a building to interfere with an authorized activity;
  3. Preventing or attempting to prevent by force, violence, or threat a lawful assembly authorized by the school administration;
  4. Disrupting by force, violence, or threat a lawful assembly in progress;
  5. Obstructing or restraining the passage of a person at an exit or entrance, or preventing their ingress or egress, without authorization;

This statute can apply if a threat leads to the evacuation or significant disruption of school activities. An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor. Repeat offenders may also become ineligible to attend state-funded higher education institutions

child taken into custody

Juvenile Offenders: What Happens if Your Child is Taken Into Custody?

In Texas, offenses committed by an individual who is 10 years or older but under 17 are handled through the juvenile justice system. This process differs significantly from that for adults. Unlike adults, juveniles are not taken to a conventional jail to be processed. They are not “booked into jail.” Instead, they go through a procedure known as juvenile intake, which is specifically designed to handle minors with a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

The Role of Juvenile Intake

Juvenile intake is a critical first step when a minor is taken into custody or accused of a crime. This process is triggered when authorities, be it school officials, citizens, or parents, report a juvenile’s alleged illegal activities. Law enforcement officers may respond by taking the child into custody for a formal intake or issuing a warning notice requiring the juvenile and their parents to attend a scheduled intake session.

Procedures Upon Custody

If a child is taken into custody, they are brought to a juvenile processing office — a designated area within a police station or similar facility, where they can be legally detained for up to six hours. This setting is not punitive like jail cells used for adults but is designed to safely secure the juvenile while processing them according to legal requirements. These include administrative tasks like completing essential forms, fingerprinting, and issuing required warnings.

Juvenile Intake Process in Tarrant County

During the juvenile intake process in Tarrant County, the case is initially handled by a juvenile intake probation officer. This officer reviews the offense report, conducts interviews with the juvenile and their parents, and assesses the situation. The goal is to determine the most appropriate next steps, which could range from referral for prosecution to supervised release with conditions.

During the intake process, the child will be fingerprinted and photographed. It is required by the Texas Department of Public Safety, regardless if you are a juvenile or an adult. In Tarrant County, the child will be taken to a specific fingerprint and photograph office at the detention center, where the photos and fingerprints will be taken.

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Juvenile Intake Interview

The intake interview is pivotal. It aims not to interrogate but to gather comprehensive information about the juvenile’s background, which includes their family environment, educational situation, and any potential mental health or substance abuse issues. This data helps build a social history that will guide the court in deciding how to proceed with the case. The process is designed to be non-adversarial, emphasizing the best interest of the child and family.

Outcomes of the Juvenile Intake Process

After the juvenile intake process concludes, the probation officer determines the appropriate next steps based on the severity and specifics of the case. There are several potential outcomes including:

  • Supervisory Caution: Here, the probation officer advises the juvenile on their behavior and may direct them to a social service agency or a community program designed for first offenders. Under this outcome, the case does not advance to the District Attorney’s Office, and no formal charges are placed.
  • Deferred Prosecution Probation: This option allows the juvenile to enter into a probation agreement. If they successfully adhere to its conditions and complete the program, the charges are dismissed, and the case is closed. However, failure to comply or complete the program could lead to the case being escalated to the prosecutor for formal charging.
  • Referral to District Attorney for Prosecution: In more severe instances, such as felonies or crimes involving assault or weapons, the probation officer must send the case to the District Attorney’s Office for further review and potential prosecution.

The Importance of Legal Representation and Expertise

Throughout this process, it is crucial for a juvenile to have skilled and specialized legal representation. Lisa Herrick, a board-certified juvenile law expert, is vital to the Varghese Summersett team. Her expertise is especially important during the juvenile intake process, ensuring the juvenile’s rights are protected. If your child has been accused of making a school threat, having Lisa by their side can make a significant difference in the outcome of the case.

If you are an adult in the eyes of the law – age 17 or older – and have been accused of making school threats, you will be handled as an adult in the criminal justice system. At Varghese Summersett, we have the top attorneys in Texas on our roster who will fight for the best possible outcome in your case. Our goal is to resolve the case in a manner that will keep your record clean and not negatively impact your future. Call 817-203-2220 to speak to an experienced attorney today.
School Threats in Texas: The Crimes and Consequences

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