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State, county leaders split on how to discipline false school threats

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MADISON (WKOW) --- As the number of students making threats against schools increases, law enforcement agencies, and state leaders are talking about how to discipline those who make those threats.

At the Dane County courthouse, a 17-year-old Sun Prairie High School student faces terrorism charges after he told his teacher he wanted to be “a shooter.”

The teenager, who WKOW is not naming because he’s a minor, was in court on Monday and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. 

The criminal complaint alleges the student told a teacher on September 18 he intended “buy a gun” with his first paycheck and “kill everyone.”

The student claims he only said that because he didn’t like the teacher, but it’s situations like these that have state and Dane County leaders discussing how to discipline false threats.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told 27 New earlier this month he wants students to be held to a higher standard when making such a threat, possibly facing felony charges.

Right now only specific types of threats, such as what’s alleged in the Sun Prairie case, can it end in criminal charges.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said before exploring more severe changes he rather look for the root cause as to why a student is making a threat in the first place.

"You need to look at what we're addressing and why that child is doing what they are doing,” said Ozanne. “I'm not saying it has to be a felony, law enforcement and school officials and the community are taking these very seriously, I think we can get in front of a lot of these incidents if we work on education and taking out violence."

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney echoed Ozanna saying he wants to see more education at schools about the impacts threats can have.

“Education should be increased on the impact of these types of bogus calls and the impact it has on our community but particularly in our schools,” said Sheriff Mahoney.

Both Mahoney and Ozanne said social media is a major factor in more students making threats as anyone can make a threatening post.

State lawmakers have introduced legislation to give harsher penalties to those who make school threats, charging a student with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

However, the proposal has faced opposition as some believe a felony is too harsh for minors who might not understand the severity of the threat they make.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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