The Exeter Township School Board voted unanimously May 28 to expel four district students implicated in a series of bomb threat hoaxes made against the junior and senior high schools. Three 15-year-old high school students and one 14-year-old junior high student were already suspended from school after being implicated in the threats.
School District Superintendent Dr. Beverly Martin had recommended expulsion for the students, although it was the board that needed to make the final determination. The special voting session followed hearings before a committee of board members, which then recommended expulsion in each case. The expulsion hearings and subsequent vote were carried out as part of the district's policy governing terrorist threats.
The board fell short of permanent expulsion, however, leaving the option open for the students to request re-admission to the district after 12 months. In the meantime, they will attend an alternative school, paid for by the school district.
'Over the years, other districts have gone through what we went through, and I would get the notification and I thought 'when is our turn coming?' And then it came, and it came and then it came,' Martin said. 'I knew that sooner or later it was going to be our turn, and unfortunately it was a number of kids that made some really bad choices. Fortunately there was never really any threat, but still – an implied threat is still a threat. We always have to take it seriously.'
High School Principal William Cain said the punishment that was handed down was an appropriate punishment.
'It was a terroristic threat. Whether it was a joke or not, it was still a threat. And it created a lots of anxiety for students, teachers and parents,' he said.
Cain said it's also appropriate that the students may have a chance to come back to the school.
Board member Russell Diesinger said the district is committed to the safety of students.
'These kinds of actions will never be tolerated,' he said. 'We sent a clear message, and I would hope that we could reach out to encourage parents to get more involved in their kids' lives so that they know the things they're involved in and that these kinds of things perhaps can be prevented by some proactive intervention at the family level.'
Board member Andrew Yawger said the punishment was just.
'None of them realized the extent of what they had done – the ramifications. It's unfortunate that they didn't get it. I have to believe in redemption,' said Yawger. 'They are young and inexperienced. I want them to learn from it and come back, if they can show they are making progress and getting it. You do have to set an example and we can't let it go, because everyone will try it. This is serious stuff. Even if it's not a real threat, it causes real fear.'
In all, six threats were made between April 25 and May 7: four against the high school and two against the junior high.
Threats were made against the high school April 25, 27 and May 3 and 4, with threats against the junio high May 4 and 7. The original April 25 threat remains under investigation.
The threats resulted in increased security in the schools, including sweeps by police canine units, restricted access and movement at the high school, an evacuation of the high school and an early dismissal at both the junior and senior high schools.
Board president Robert Quinter said that while direct costs to the district may have been minimal, there were 690 lost student days, students enrolled in AP programs with tests scheduled were relocated for the testing and a fundraising event scheduled at the high school with the Philadelphia Eagles with the potential to raise as much as $10,000 had to be cancelled.
The board also expressed thanks to the Exeter Police Department for their support of the district. Martin explained that there have been some lessons learned, and members of the administration will meet with the police department to get their input on improving the plan should a similar situation arise in the future.