BENTON - About 20 concerned parents met with Scott County R-4 School Board members and Superintendent Don Moore Thursday looking for answers and assurances following reports of a student threat.
The meeting was prompted by an incident last week in which death threats were apparently made in an online text chat between two Kelly students during off-school hours.
Moore reported previously that he interviewed the student and notified the juvenile office to investigate the incident. The student has reportedly not been permitted to return to school pending the results of the investigation.
The district's policy, Moore explained to parents Thursday, is to assess the threat and determine the level of risk.
"Then we make our appropriate response," he said. As part of the evaluation, officials may seek out "other evidence we could have gotten as well from other parents and students."
Being careful to avoid specifics related to the recent incident, Moore and the board fielded general questions from parents regarding the district's threat protocol.
A psychological assessment will determine "if he's trying to get attention or if he's serious," Moore said. Administration will then make a decision based on that assessment.
Asked if the district has a "zero tolerance" policy, Moore said, "We have a zero tolerance on threats." The policy does not mean a student will necessarily be permanently expelled though, he added.
The number-one priority for school officials is to "take appropriate steps to make sure our school is safe," Moore said. He added that if it came down to placing himself in harm's way to protect a student, "I would do it...I'm telling you that from my heart."
Depending on the level of the threat, action is taken by the teacher, principal, superintendent or the school board itself at the highest assessed threat level. Moore said the school has never yet had a threat determined to be serious enough for the board to be called to action.
As far as providing information to parents other than the student who issued the threat, confidentiality must be preserved, Moore said. "We have to follow the law."
In the event that a student is found to be in possession of a weapon and is arrested, then parents will be notified and the situation will be well-publicized, Moore said.
However, preventative policies are already in place, Moore said, such as a ban on all weapons at the school and the requirement for visitors' passes to prevent intruders. "We try to prevent anything such as that from happening," he said.
Depending on where and when threats were issued, the sheriff is called to respond by school officials in the event of an imminent threat.
"The level of response goes up as the level of threat goes up," Moore explained.
As for providing information to parents, Moore said parents with safety concerns may meet with their child's principal or the superintendent for more specific information on threats, but student names must be withheld along with any personally identifiable information.
"We do the best we can," said Moore. "We don't want anybody at risk any more than you do."
Some parents complained they felt school officials hushed things up "so we can't have free and open discussion" about the incident.
Other parents emphasized that it isn't a "school board" versus parents conflict, but they would like to know the "truth" about what is going on "so the rumor will stop."
Seeking some sort of guidance as to what she should do Monday morning, a parent voiced her discontent with the amount of information being shared. "I think that we've wasted an hour here."
"I depend on you to take care of my child from 8 to 3," said another.
Parents also requested that the threat policy be published and more explicit.
"We do take every single (threat) seriously," Moore said.
"We're all parents here," said Rita Milam, board member. And as board members, "we took an oath to protect the students of the school district."
Milam said she personally would like to tell parents everything they want to know about the recent incident, but she can't because of the law. "The answers you want, we can not give," she said.
The board has confidence in Moore, however, and his ability to handle the situation, Milam said.
All seven of the board members are committed to protecting and educating the area's children, Milam continued.
"We want you to trust in the school system," she said. "We're here; we're listening.
"We want you to know that we're concerned," said a parent.
"You are definitely being heard," Milam answered.
Milam said everyone has things they would like to change about their job. "Can you change them? No," she said. "Some things we would love to do but can't because of the law."
For some parents, the "kindness and concern" of Milam's response seemed to satisfy some of them.
Others seemed to look for more.
One parent expressed concerns about parents knowing more about what's going on than school staff. "When I read the email myself I was greatly concerned," she said.
Moore said the district must only inform staff that are directly involved. "We can't go past the 'need to know,'" he said.
One parent suggested counseling services for students after a threat instead of just offering counseling after something terrible has happened.
Another parent suggested the board review policies and procedures.
Milam said the policies are reviewed and changed every year, "but we can't determine what's going to happen in future...If we can look at policies and do something, we're going to do it."
Several parents agreed it is aggravating for those seeking answers to not be able to get them.
"We've told you everything we can tell you," said Milam.