Keeping students safe in school is a major concern and focus for both parents and administrators.
Concern over this issue, and over the Peninsula School District’s communication policy, was raised this past week after two unsubstantiated threats toward local schools were discovered.
On May 5, graffiti threatening gun violence on May 10 was discovered in a Gig Harbor High School bathroom. Another threat, against Goodman Middle School, was received via text by a student on May 9 and was understood to be a bomb threat.
In both cases law enforcement was contacted and a thorough investigation conducted, said PSD community outreach director Kathy Weymiller.
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The student responsible for the Goodman threat was identified and the threat at GHHS was investigated, with additional police presence on campus as a precaution on the noted day.
“We don’t want to cause disruption. We want to be able to create a functional educational environment,” Weymiller said. “You don’t want to send a message that people can easily shut a school down.”
We don’t want to cause disruption. We want to be able to create a functional educational environment. You don’t want to send a message that people can easily shut a school down.
Kathy Weymiller, Peninsula School District community outreach director
Student and staff safety is a top priority for PSD administrators, Weymiller said, and providing parents with necessary information on school matters remains in the forefront with any incident.
“Had we thought there was going to be a shooter at Gig Harbor that day or there was any sort of credible potential for that, we wouldn’t have had school. We wouldn’t have put our students or staff at risk,” she said. “Any time there’s a threat made, even if we don’t think it’s credible, we’re going to report it to that school’s parents.”
Emails were sent to parents informing them of the threats and investigations at Gig Harbor and Goodman MS. Notifications were also sent to parents of students at schools with joined campuses — Discovery Elementary and Henderson Bay High School for GHHS, and Harbor Heights Elementary for Goodman.
Criticism of the communication policy emerged online, with parents divided over the timeliness of notification or stating that they had not received any notice of the threats.
“Whenever something like this goes on, we respect the parents’ right to make the best decision for their families,” Weymiller said. “The concern is that we worry that we’re in ‘the season’ ... when bomb threats come they tend to come in clusters or copycats. What we do in communications is balance what people need to know versus glamorizing or encourage copycat behavior.”
Whenever something like this goes on we respect the parents right to make the best decision for their families. The concern is that we worry that we’re in ‘the season’…when bomb threats come they tend to come in clusters or copycats. What we do in communications is balance what people need to know versus glamorizing or encourage copycat behavior.
With a daughter in second grade at Discovery Elementary, Brianna Leverett Torres was one of the parents to receive an email from the district about the incident at GHHS.
“Whenever something is kind of close to the school I specifically remember getting notified of what’s going on,” she said. “I feel like her school is so safe and so locked down I don’t stress over it. I’ve always felt her school was so safe.”
PSD elementary and middle schools have secured access, with a camera and intercom system for visitors to identify themselves before being allowed into the main offices. While such a system is impractical for the high schools, with so many students coming and going to different buildings, Weymiller said that updates to the intercom system and additional cameras have been added around the high school campuses.
Staff training is also a vital part in PSD’s student safety plan, with staff receiving instruction in Incident Command System, active shooter training, monthly drills to prepare for emergencies such as fires, earthquakes or lockdowns. Along with a school resource officer, there is also security in all three of the district’s high schools who attend regular training and conferences.
I trust the administration enough that they’re doing what’s most important first (in these cases), the investigation, finding the details and making sure everyone’s safe, before getting on the computer to tell me everything.
Brianna Leverett Torres, Discovery Elementary parent
But one of the biggest safety asset that the district has is the students themselves, Weymiller said. With semi-annual visits from Darren Laur AKA the “White Hatter” — owner of Personal Protection Systems, Inc, a Canadian company that provides proactive internet and social media safety, digital literacy and workplace violence prevention training — students in PSD schools have learned tools to be safe online and report suspicious behavior from other students.
This proactive behavior was seen in action following a social media threat online in September, with many students reporting the incident to parents, school administration and law enforcement.
While safety is not a major worry for Rachel Vasquez, whose son will start as a freshman at GHHS this fall, the size of the school and number of students have caused her some concern.
“My biggest concern is the size of the school and that amount of kids. It’s like a small town,” she said. “How do you even keep tabs? How do you follow that many kids?”
Seeing the communication and outreach from the district has helped settle some of Vasquez’s concerns and has remained a source of comfort for Torres.
“I trust the administration enough that they’re doing what’s most important first (in these cases), the investigation, finding the details and making sure everyone’s safe, before getting on the computer to tell me everything,” she said. “They’ve made it so safe at the schools that it’s not anything I even worry about.”
With 120 square miles in the district, communication with families and communities remains a priority, Weymiller said. She added that prioritizing information and weighing ongoing investigations against timeliness of information to parents is unique in every situation.
“We really truly want people to know what they need to know and want to be as transparent as we can,” she said. “We’re always open to feedback. Every situation always gives us a chance to do better on the next one.”
She also noted that parents who have not received district emails should check their email spam folders and also make sure they have not accidentally unsubscribed from the email list. Any parent not receiving emails should check with their child’s school.