Communication is critical when public school safety incidents arise. By and large, it seems Tuesday’s situation at Stephen Decatur High School was handled much better than other incidents in previous years. A message was reportedly written on a wall inside the school about a shooting to take place at the school on April 12, the first day after spring break. Once word of the threat was made, teens started texting their parents, resulting in some anxious moments as messages got convoluted and anxieties trend to the worst in these situations. It’s why immediate and frequent messages to parents are important as efforts continue to ensure the safety of the students and teachers.
On Tuesday afternoon, parents were notified in a message from the school system about the threat. It read, “We have been made aware of a threat made in reference to our school. Please know all students and staff are safe, and we are working in partnership with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the credibility of the threat, and we will keep you updated as more information is available.” Around the same time, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook and through a press statement, “We have been made aware of a threat made in reference to our school. Please know all students and staff are safe, and we are working in partnership with the Worcester County Public Schools to investigate the credibility of the threat, and we will keep you updated as more information is available.” Around 4 p.m., another post from the Sheriff’s Office read, “…. investigations into the writing found at the school is ongoing and will continue into tomorrow. Out of an abundance of caution, an increased law enforcement presence will be at the school until that time that the threat is deemed non-credible. We will provide an additional update tomorrow as it is made available.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the follow-up email came from the Sheriff’s Office, reading, “… we have deemed the threat non-credible, and the individual suspected of creating the threat has been identified. The appropriate charges are being forwarded to the Department of Juvenile Justice. No additional information will be provided to protect the privacy of the student.” It was widely speculated low attendance at the high school Wednesday was connected to the incident on Tuesday. While there may have been a few reservations from students and parents, the half-day before spring break, and any extended break from school for that matter, always sees lighter attendance than usual.
It was a commendable effort, one that appears to be improved after previous situations in years past when direct communication was lacking, resulting in hysteria among parents. Now what’s often never learned is what kind of discipline the young person will face for the threat. This is unfortunate because the punishment should be known to all as a potential deterrent to a juvenile threat intended to scare and disrupt.
There is a tremendous amount of passion for education in this community. It’s a good thing and has been spotlighted several times over the last few weeks. People care tremendously about our schools, and it’s one of the reasons Worcester County Public Schools is annually deemed one of the bets in Maryland.
When she was elected to the Worcester County Board of Education in November, it was evident Katie Addis was going to shake things up in Newark. Though it’s an elected board, the norm for school system management is the superintendent and his or her administrative team run daily operations. Rarely, if ever, is the superintendent at odds with the school board and most matters are routinely handled during meetings. The sense is the school board leaves the operations of the schools to the experts. Addis is making it clear she will be questioning matters before her and voting against decisions if she feels they are rushed or when not enough information has been provided. During last month’s meeting, Addis questioned why as a school board member she learns details about a school safety incident from a Facebook page and not the school system administration directly. Numerous comments were made about the safety of students and personnel being paramount during these sorts of incidents. While encouraging Addis to reach out to him or his team when she has questioned, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor seemed to take exception with the approach Addis took at the public meeting. During his response to Addis, Taylor said, “I would appreciate notifying me or my team … instead of in here where I think it’s wasting everybody’s time.” Addis responded she didn’t think she was wasting anyone’s time. A week later, Addis outlined her approach to current school system affairs and her two failed motions at last month’s meeting in a letter to the editor. A letter in response from long-time local teacher Melissa Reid defended the school system and encouraged the newly elected school board member to focus her efforts what’s “required to maintain the level of excellence” within Worcester County schools.
More passion for our schools was evident Wednesday when about 100 community members gathered in a church in Snow Hill to discuss the handling of a racial post by a high school student. What seemed to bother most about the situation was a discipline handed down by Snow Hill High School principal was seemingly questioned by a member of the school system administration. The principal was direct in her claims her judgment was criticized after calls were made to Newark to get a one-game suspension overruled for those involved. She maintains she was bullied by the school system into changing her discipline, which was eventually carried out after an uproar along with something called a “restorative circle.”