What a difference a sheriff, a policy and some common sense can make.

Twice last week Traverse City schools were locked down because of a potentially volatile situation; both cases ended with minimal angst.

But in April of 2007, the then-Grand Traverse County sheriff made a big deal out of comments made by a 15-year-old West Senior High student to a school counselor; the student, the sheriff told the media, had made "specific threats" to shoot "multiple students."

School officials had contacted the sheriff's department about the boy's comments to a staff member; detectives questioned the student and searched the family's home, even though the parents were away. The boy was suspended from school, temporarily placed with the Michigan Department of Community Health and taken to a downstate hospital.

The following afternoon, the sheriff held a press conference where he discussed the student's alleged plot and disclosed his name to the media. He said he thought it was necessary to identify the suicidal student -- even though he was in custody miles and miles away -- because "this person had made specific threats that he was going to shoot multiple students."

But county Prosecutor Alan Schneider declined to bring charges and said the teen's statements weren't considered a threat under Michigan law. "The student communicated thoughts to a counselor, and that is not a crime," said Schneider. He added that the comments aren't considered a threat by law or "even by common sense."

Investigators never found an "attack plan" and guns found at the boy's home were his father's hunting weapons, which they said hadn't been moved for some time.

Despite rumors swirling around the school, students and parents weren't notified of the incident until the district mailed parents a letter the day after the boy was taken into custody.

What a mess.

Fast forward to last week, when parents were told Monday by the school district's automatic voice message system that Blair Elementary and West Middle schools were locked down because an angry parent with a gun may have been near Blair.

Students from Blair were taken to West Middle school, where they stayed until the man was arrested; the district lifted the lockdown and parents got another automated message. Some wanted more details, but were glad the system was in place and that it worked.

On Friday, Traverse Heights Elementary was locked down for about 20 minutes due to an "inaccurate report" about a parent.

All this was light years away from the 2007 incident. Parents got information, not rumors, everyone knew where their children were and the new sheriff never climbed on a soapbox.

What a concept.

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