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Psychologist: Threats adding to anxiety of the school year

Posted at 7:20 PM, Aug 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 10:59:36-04

Threats were made at the following schools on Thursday and Friday:

  • Conniston Middle School
  • Wynnebrook Elementary School
  • Cardinal Newman High School
  • Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts
  • Forest Hill High School
  • Palm Beach Lakes High School
  • Worthington High School, a "finish school" serving older students ages 16 to 21

West Palm Beach police said on Monday that the FBI is still assisting in the investigation, that all of the threats were non-credible and that no students or faculty were ever in danger.

Still, parents said the threats put them and their children on edge during the lock-downs.

“That’s my only daughter, I would hate to see anything happen to my daughter or any kid here,” said Jason Reid, a parent at Wynnebrook Elementary School, on Friday.

With no threats made this week, it was a more peaceful day for parent Fedrina Salmon, whose daughter also attends the school.

But while picking up her girl from school on Monday, she said she still has a nagging feeling every time she drops her daughter off for class.

“I felt helpless because I wasn’t with her. So it was very scary,” she said about last week. “You still have that thought in the back of your mind when you take your kids to school every morning, will there be another threat?”

Another parent, Abby Kennedy from Conniston Middle School, echoed that same sentiment on Friday.

“All the aggression in society these days. There's so much aggression," she said.

That mindset is why clinical psychologist Dr. Melissa Fogel of Whole Health Psychological Center in West Palm Beach said these threats can have a lasting toll throughout the school year.

She said she’s seen an uptick in anxiety among her clients — which includes parents and children.

“The impact has been seen. Parents are anxious especially with the events that happened last week,” she said. “Children are aware that there is potential for violence. There is anxiety is that another shooting could happen.

She said having these threats so early in the school year can add onto existing anxieties and cause behavioral and sleep disruptions in children.

“Increasing anxiety, change in school performance, and in some of the older kids, substance use,” she added.

That’s why Dr. Fogel said it's important for parents to talk their kids right now.

“To discuss safety measures in the school to know that it’s there to protect them, to discuss how their child is feeling and really validate their feelings,” she said.

It’s also a good time to remind them that these threats -- even as a joke -- is a felony. It is a federal crime to threaten schools and can lead to a five-year prison sentence.

“Any of their behaviors can have consequences,” said Dr. Fogel.

Finally, she said parents need to keep their own anxieties in mind and consider therapy if they continue to have overwhelming feelings.

“Just because this has happened in isolated number of incidents, this doesn’t generalize that it’s going to happen definitely to every school,” she said. “They need to remind themselves that the schools have protocols, they do these drills, they are aware, and they are implementing more security at the schools.”