No joke

Jan 3, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

There's no room anymore for wisecracks about violence at school

A visit to a local elementary school on a cold January morning brought to mind a headline from last week's Ranger:

"Teen says he was joking about school threat," it read.

The story appeared on our Wyoming and the West news page. It concerned a kid from Montana who has a cousin attending high school in Gillette. After the Newtown, Conn., school shootings last month, the Montana resident thought it would be good for a laugh to make a joke about shooting up Campbell County High School.

Not funny. Not funny at all. Law enforcement and school district authorities didn't get the joke.

Two things can be learned here. First, if you live your life for all to see online (the joke threat was posted on Facebook, naturally), then don't be surprised if some stupid thing you do online gets you in trouble one day. Someone is watching. Always.

The day may come when far fewer people will want to live this way, but for the moment many of us still think every little thought we have -- including "amusing" threats to schools -- ought to be shared online with others -- friends and strangers alike.

Second, the days when a threat to a school might be viewed as a joke are over, if they ever really existed in the first place.

Much in the way that there is zero tolerance for wisecracks about highjackings, bombings or plane crashes in airports and on commercial airline flights, Newtown has brought an end to flexibility of interpretation when it comes to remarks about revenge, mayhem or any other sort of violence at a school.

News reports today covered the return of the surviving students to school. Seeing the pictures of their little forms scurrying inside from the cold to the welcoming environs of their new school, renamed Sandy Hook, just like the old one, surely reaffirmed for all of us the importance of keeping school a place free from outside threats, even if they are just intended as wisecracks.

On this topic -- from Newtown, Conn., to Fremont County, Wyo., and everywhere in between -- there's no such thing as a joke anymore.

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