Five 5th-grade students were suspended from a New Jersey school Wednesday after administrators discovered their written plans for an attack on a high school during a field trip there, the Associated Press reports.
The students, ages 10 and 11, had a homemade device filled with vinegar and cinnamon. They were detained by police and later released to their parents.
Police determined the device was not an explosive, the AP reports. But Clifton, N.J., Detective Sgt. Robert Bracken told local media, “It was not a prank.”
The incident raises plenty of questions about school safety and discipline. Should a school discipline a student less harshly for such a plot if it is not likely to be successful? What sorts of school-based efforts will be required to help students rebuild trust with their peers? How can educators do this while minimizing disruption in the classroom? And what led such young students to devise such a plan to begin with? How did police determine if it was “just a prank” or something to be taken more seriously?
As I’ve written before, those who carry out mass attacks rarely “just snap” as popular media narratives would lead us to believe. Such plots usually start with a “relatable frustration” that is cultivated over time. That’s why school safety efforts urge threat assessment and emotional support for students as keys to violence prevention.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.