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Stamford Officials Call For Stiffer Penalties For Threats Against Schools

State Rep. William Tong of Stamford and Darien listens to testimony on Senate Bill 246, an act concerning the zero-tolerance safe school environment, in Stamford on Wednesday.
State Rep. William Tong of Stamford and Darien listens to testimony on Senate Bill 246, an act concerning the zero-tolerance safe school environment, in Stamford on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky

STAMFORD, Conn. — Just weeks after nearly 2,000 students and staff were evacuated from Stamford High after a fake bomb threat, city officials offered testimony in support of a new bill that would increase penalties for those who make threats against schools. 

Stamford's Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly and Stamford Mayor David Martin testified Wednesday in a legislative hearing at the University of Connecticut in Stamford.

Their testimony follows several recent high-profile lockdowns and evacuations in Stamford, Fairfield and other municipalities throughout the state, which have taken an emotional toll on students, staff and parents, according to Connelly.

“This illegal behavior has caused great emotional harm ... to entire school community, including students, staff and parents,” Connelly said. “It causes a deep sense of anxiety and fear that lingers far beyond the time and place that a school is placed in lockdown or evacuated."

Connelly said threats to schools — known as swatting — have become more frequent and more high tech. In the past, students might have pulled a fire alarm or called in a threat to miss an exam, he said.

But in recent years, those who make threats may not even be students. They are motivated by the desire to see a police response, Connelly said.

“These aren’t 14-, 15-year-old pranksters,” he said. “These are cyber-terrorists as far as I’m concerned."

Martin said the February threats to Stamford High School had serious consequences, including a diversion of police resources. He said 40 police units responded, with several fire and EMS teams placed on standby.

The proposed act, Senate Bill 246, would increase the penalties for when a threat involves a preschool, K-12 school or an institution of higher education.

Under the proposal, those who make a threat against a school could spend up to 10 years in prison. But the bill would “provide for an automatic pardon for certain persons who make such a threat prior to attaining the age of 18 years,” according to the bill.

State Rep. Caroline Simmons, who represents a portion of Stamford in the 144th District, co-sponsored the bill along with state Sen. Tony Hwang, who represents Fairfield in the 28th District along with Easton, Newtown, Weston and Westport, and by state Rep. William Tong of Darien and Stamford.

“These are very sophisticated means of trying to scare,” Hwang told NBC Connecticut.

Hwang’s 16-year-old son goes to Warde High School, which received a threatening call last fall.

“They were forced to lie down to the back of the walls for nearly three and a half hours in pitch darkness with no information,” he said.

To review a copy of the bill, click here.

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