MOUNT CARMEL - Mount Carmel Area students are expected to return to school today, one day after classes were canceled in the wake of a bomb threat.

The threat was made about 7 a.m. Tuesday in a phone call to the district office that was answered by an administrative assistant, said Police Chief Brian Hollenbush, Mount Carmel Township.

"If anybody steps foot in this school they're gonna blow up, was the basic synopsis of the phone call," he said.

District Superintendent Bernie Stellar stressed that "at no time were any students or staff in danger."

Neither Stellar nor Hollenbush would classify the incident as a hoax. They said the same in March when a similar incident lead to a district-wide evacuation.

Both men said such matters must be handled as if the threat were impending.

"Is it a possible that it's a hoax? Sure it is. In my job I can't take it as a hoax, I have to take it as something serious. It is an imminent threat that needs to be investigated," the police chief said.

The threat came early enough in the day that only about half of the student body was on hand at the elementary and junior/senior high schools when it was made, Stellar said.

Students, faculty and staff were evacuated to the front lawn of the campus near West Fifth Street. They were then transported by bus four blocks to the Silver Bowl football stadium on West Third Street.

Some school busses hadn't departed for their daily route and were held back while others turned around.

Parents were notified of the incident via automated telephone call and were told they could come to the stadium to pick up their children if they wished, as the school day was canceled.

"I sent an AlertNow message informing parents that everything was under control and that all students were safe and accounted for," Stellar said.

Police officers from Mount Carmel Township and Mount Carmel Borough responded, as did members of Pennsylvania State Police, including a trio of dog handlers. Both school buildings were locked down and any vehicle parked on the campus prior to the threat being made was restricted from leaving.

The school buildings and parking lots were swept, and no suspicious items were found, Hollenbush said.

After the scene was deemed safe, the lockdown of both schools was lifted, and officers cleared the scene after 2 p.m.

Patrolman Dave Stamets, Mount Carmel Township, and Police Chief Todd Owens, Mount Carmel Borough, are leading the joint investigation into Tuesday's incident, Hollenbush said, adding that the March incident also remains under investigation.

Stellar said he hoped anyone responsible for making the threats is brought to justice.

Apart from the obvious safety risks posed by a bomb threat, whether it's real or not, Stellar said of the incident, "It's unfortunate, it's costly and it's unproductive."