Is There a Future Terrorist in Your Classroom?

Posted by on June 9, 2010

Imagine a student in your high school today turns out to be an alleged international terrorist five years from now.

New Jersey Jihadist wanted to mutilate gays, blow up high school as troubled teen” was the NY Daily News headline on Tuesday afternoon.

School: NJ terror suspect was dangerous as student blazed across the Associated Press wires.

Both stories highlighted how one of two terrorism suspects arrested at JFK airport over the weekend was removed several years ago from his New Jersey high school due to his potential danger.  According to North Bergen High School spokesman Paul Swibinski:

“School officials were very concerned about having him in the building,” Swibinski said. “They were concerned for the safety of the other students and the staff.”

The male was reportedly placed on “home instruction” according to the stories.

A number of school safety issues and questions arise from this story:

  1. What would your school leaders do if they developed reasonable suspicion that a student had truly terroristic intentions?
  2. What should officials do if they have a student or students enrolled in their school whose family members are arrested in connection with alleged terrorist plots?
  3. Has anyone considered the possibility of terrorist cells including teens planted as students at an American high school?

While these questions sound far fetched, the only thing that is certain today is that nothing is certain today. 

I first raised the issue of a terrorist threat to schools in my 1998 book, Practical School Security.  I have also forced the conversation on schools as potential terror targets at a time when most were, and still are, uncomfortable in discussing the issue.  Several related posts (see below links) have also appeared in this blog.

The good news from one of Tuesday’s story is that one of the schools of the recently arrested terror suspect reportedly had contacted local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the student in question.  Concerned educators should always report their safety concerns to law enforcement when they feel there is a threat to the security of their students, staff, and school.

We should not be paranoid, alarmist, or seeing terrorists around every high school hallway.  But out of fear of alarming parents and creating public panic, our nation’s leaders and education leaders have downplayed and neglected the issue of terrorism and schools.  The Beslan Russia school terrorist siege of 2004 should have changed the conversation, but at best it only did so for a very brief time.

Have you given any thought to schools as potential targets for terrorism? What would your school leaders say if they were faced with the above questions?

Ken Trump

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3 thoughts on “Is There a Future Terrorist in Your Classroom?

  1. Ken, to believe we do not have potential terrorist in our schools is to stick one’s head in the sand. This is not a postion school administrators want to be in, because it leaves one’s backside exposed. In addition Columbine was a domestic terrorist act. Look at what that act caused. Isn’t the word Columbine now used in almost every media story on school violence? Has anyone forgotten Columbine, much the same as 9/11? Schools must be prepared to deal with all types of threats and use their community partners when necessary.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      The choice not to go more deeply into the schools and terrorism issue is a combination of denial and, to an even greater extent, our leaders’ fear of creating fear and anxiety among parents. And of course, if the feds did acknowledge it in full, then they’d have to fund something to better prepare for it, and they don’t want to increase school safety or emergency preparedness funding. Too busy greasing the pet-pork earmark funds to do that, I’m afraid.

  2. Becky Blanton says:

    There are indeed disturbed teenagers in every high school and there have always been teens who had mental health issues. Why is no one addressing the issue that 98% of all the teens who act out and commit violence are on some sort of medication, anti-psychotic or affected by medication that triggers this behavior? Why is no one addressing the bullying that these kids undergo? The idea that monsters are born and manage to get through 8 or 9 years of school before “suddenly” deciding to kill people is absurd. These kids are bullied, get depressed, are put on medication to “help” the depression from being bullied, and then have breakdowns based on the continuing bullying, the stress and the medication. THAT is the problem – not “domestic terrorists.” It’s sexier I suppose to have a “terrorist” so grown men can dress up in black and play “SWAT TEAM” and kill teenagers…but the true solution is rooted in smaller classes, better parenting, zero tolerance for bullies, and less pharmaceuticals.

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