|Dawn Henshall, a parent from Humboldt-USD 258, visits with Board of Education members Monday evening about school security and discipline issues.|
School security discussed
Parents: Students fear threats
By RICHARD LUKEN
HUMBOLDT — A series of events in Humboldt schools has led several students to fear for their lives, a group of parents told the USD 258 Board of Education Monday.
That proclamation led to a lengthy and emotional discussion about security within Humboldt’s public schools, and whether the district has effectively dealt with alleged threats.
The discussion also led to a lengthy response by Superintendent of Schools Robert Heigele, who stressed that any and all acts or threats of violence are dealt with “quickly and consistently,” and warned those in attendance that parents have some responsibility as well in ensuring the rights of students are not violated.
Cathy Hawley, who spoke on behalf of several parents at the meeting, told the Register the issue stems from several incidents that have occurred in recent weeks, including a rumor that a student allegedly threatened to “kill everyone” at Humboldt Middle School, and at least two students who have been caught with knives.
Hawley said her son, a sixth-grader, goes to school in fear because of the threats on his life.
“All of our kids have been threatened,” Hawley said.
The threats of violence have become so pointed that children are afraid to speak out, one parent said.
“My son was threatened today that he’d get his ‘ass kicked’ by two students if he says anything,” said Lee Prock, “so now my son’s afraid to speak up.
“Do I have to make a statement?” Prock asked. “Nobody wants to do anything about it.”
The fact that nobody speaks up is part of the problem, Heigele responded. If administrators are unaware of threats, then they cannot punish those who threaten or carry out acts of violence.
The parents, who held a short prayer vigil before entering the board meeting, quizzed board members and administrators about how students who threaten violence are handled.
Each case is handled on its own merits, said Craig Smith, assistant principal at Humboldt High School.
The district follows guidelines that detail the punishment associated with the severity of the threat.
Those who bring a weapon to school, such as a gun or knife, are automatically suspended for a year, or 180 school days, Smith said, and law enforcement agencies are contacted.
The district has a zero-tolerance policy, Smith said, and does not deviate from the prescribed punishments for corresponding offenses.
Also, minor offenses that occur repeatedly are dealt with more harshly, Smith said.
As for the safety of the students, Hawley asked Humboldt High School Principal K.B. Criss about situations that had sixth- and ninth-graders using locker room showers simultaneously because of how their physical education classes were scheduled.
That situation had been rectified, Heigele responded, and would not happen again.
Jason Hawley, who also attended the meeting with his wife, asked how instructors monitored the shower rooms.
Co-ed classes, for example, do not allow instructors in the shower rooms.
“That to me is ridiculous,” Jason Hawley said. “I just assumed every shower room would be monitored, with an instructor in the room, just for the safety aspect.”
Board members asked Heigele to look at whether the shower room policy can change.
Jason Hawley asked Heigele whether he could guarantee the safety of the students attending school in USD 258.
“No, not in this day and age,” Heigele said. “There’s not a district in America that can do that.”
PARENT DAWN Henshall also spoke at the meeting, and took the opportunity to apologize to those in attendance.
Henshall explained that two of her children had been punished for threatening another student.
Then she explained why the threats were made.
The students threatened another, she said, because their cousin had been tormented by other students.
Henshall acknowledged that the boys’ cousin — her nephew — has had several behavioral issues before, but that she was trying to get the youngster’s life back in line. She even has assumed custody of the boy.
“He’s been through hell,” Henshall said.
“It doesn’t help if parents are talking about other children if they don’t know all of the issues,” Henshall said. “I got a call from a parent today saying that my son is a pervert.
“I’m trying to take him in,” she continued. “We’re sorry you don’t agree with what we’re doing, and I’m sorry my kids threatened somebody. They were just defending their cousin.”
THE PARENTS’ comments touched a nerve with Heigele.
“If this issue was brought to the Board because of a lack of trust in the leadership of the district, then maybe it’s time for a change because the principals act under my direction,” Heigele said. “I believe our policies and procedures contribute to a safe, orderly school that provides a great academic atmosphere.
“School safety and the security of our students and buildings is a reality that the administrators and staff at USD 258 deal with every day when we come to work,” Heigele said. “Everyone involved in education is aware of the headline ... about school violence. No one in this district is naive to believe that it couldn’t happen in Humboldt.”
That is why the district continually reviews its safety and discipline procedures and updates its crisis plan, the superintendent continued.
Heigele noted that board members also are considering more security updates, including a video surveillance system and connecting link between the high school and middle school.
“The board wants all buildings secured,” Heigele said. “However, it is a double-edged sword. The district wants easy access for patrons who visit our schools.”
It’s up to the board and administrators to weigh easy access and security, Heigele said, a task he welcomes with open arms.
As for the most recent threats, Heigele noted that to date, the district has handled four disciplinary incidents this school year that warranted suspension or expulsion.
“Our safety record is as good as any district in the state,” Heigele said. “It is unfortunate that patrons who have concerns about the operation of our schools do not take the initiative to use the open-door policy of our administrators.”
Instead, anonymous calls to parents, “and the gossip around the community have trampled all over the rights of the students, and that is inappropriate,” he said. “We’re supposed to be here for the kids.”