As head of security for public schools in Fairfax County, Va.—the nation's 10th largest school district—Tom Vaccarello is responsible for the safety of 189,000 kids in 196 schools. It's a big job: Each academic year, he tells the Washington Post, schools in his district receive some 100 threats … about one every other day. "I protect 189,000 presidents now," says Vaccarello, a former Secret Service member. "We can't be complacent." However, he tells the Post, balancing student safety with minimizing disruptions is a difficult task. After all, most threats are not credible. Still, as threats made against schools increase—up 158% from 2013 to 2014, one expert tells the San Jose Mercury News—more and more school officials across the US are being forced to strike that balance.
For instance, all public schools in Nashua, NH, were closed Dec. 21 based on what was described as a "detailed threat of violence." The schools opened the next day, the New York Times reports, after an investigation yielded no "current, credible threat." The week before school districts in Los Angeles and New York City (the nation's two largest districts) received similar emails threatening violence. In LA, officials canceled classes for 640,000 students. Their counterparts in NYC, however, determined the threat was a hoax and kept schools open, with New York's police chief telling the Times that officials in LA made a "significant overreaction." Such criticisms notwithstanding, "You’ve got to put the safety of the students first. If someone’s harmed, that’s irreversible," Washington College President Sheila Bair, who shut down her campus in November, tells the Times.