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Saturday, May. 15, 1999

Bomb threats force Allen to cancel 2 weeks of school

In Ricardo, school canceled Friday after 4 days of threats

From staff and wire reports

   ALLEN -- Officials who canceled the last two weeks of school because of repeated bomb threats are now receiving criticism from angry parents and puzzled students.
   "I just think it's ridiculous," said parent Kurt Dowd. "I think they're playing right into the hands of these people that are perpetrating this."
   Schools in Allen, a suburb north of Dallas, have received 11 bomb threats this week, requiring eight evacuations at the high school, two middle schools and an elementary school. No bombs have been found.
   A 15-year-old student has been arrested and charged with calling in one threat from his middle school cafeteria. But school officials believe most of the threats are unrelated, copycat actions.
   The district, with 9,800 students in kindergarten through high school, canceled the rest of the school year after a board meeting that began Thursday night and stretched an hour past midnight.
   "We're not sure we can guarantee the safety of every Allen ISD student . . . we had to err on the side of caution," said school district spokesman Tim Carroll. "We have to assume every threat is real even if deep down a lot of us think these are kids . . . these are just jokes."
   In Ricardo, four consecutive days of bomb threats led district officials to close school Friday.
   "Parents are concerned, and a lot of them are keeping their children out of classes," said Superintendent Joe Garza. We thought we might as well cancel because attendance would be so low anyway."
   School officials evacuated the school each time they received a threat, but no bombs were ever found, Garza said. Six students -- all middle-school-age -- have been detained and are expected to be charged in connection with the bomb threats, Garza said.
   This week's threats are the first bomb threats received this year, school officials said.
   Garza said there are no plans to cancel any more days of school.
   "I hope that things will cool off over the weekend and we can resume classes on Monday," he said. "We will make up the missed school day later."
   There are about 600 students in the school district, which has both elementary and middle school students, Garza said.
   Allen ISD's Carroll said the threats were taken even more seriously in the wake of an assault that left 15 people dead in a Colorado school last month.
   But parents were calling the Allen Independent School District, the Texas Education Agency and even Gov. George W. Bush's office to complain.
   Despite the protests, the education agency will allow the district to fall short of the required 180 days of instruction, said agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe. That protects the district from any threat of losing state funding.
   At Allen High School, students were allowed inside -- but only after passing newly installed metal detectors -- to gather backpacks and other belongings. Few of them took the threats seriously.
   "It's kids trying to test the system," said junior Vinh Nguyen. "I don't think they mean to hurt anybody, they just want to get out of school. I'm pretty ticked off; they got what they wanted."
   "It's kind of sad," said senior Sayed Kulaly. "Some of the seniors needed to bring their grades up, and now they might not graduate."
   While some parents fumed -- three or four complained to the governor's office, according to a spokeswoman for Bush -- others supported the decision, albeit reluctantly.
   "They're trying to do the best thing," said Dennis Motta, whose son, Danny, is a sophomore at Allen High. "It's lousy that we have to live like it's Fortress America. If they find them (the callers), they should prosecute to the full extent of the law."
   District curriculum director Penni Jones recalled shrugging off bomb threats while she was a student in neighboring Plano in the early 1980s. "But as a parent, and as educators, we don't want to take any chances."
   Classes had been scheduled to end May 27. High school graduation will go on as planned May 31, and officials said lagging seniors will be given extra assignments to bring up their grades.
   It was an ignominious farewell for the high school, which will be replaced by a new campus in August.
   "There's probably going to be more security next year," said junior Sami Kahn as he left the old school for the last time.
   The Associated Press and staff writer Mary Lee Grant contributed to this report. Grant can be reached at 886-3752 or by e-mail at grantm@caller.com
   

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  © 1999 Corpus Christi Caller Times, a Scripps Howard newspaper. All rights reserved.


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