Schools vary in when to call parents after incidents

When a bus headed to Break-O-Day Elementary School was met at the school by police officers looking into a possible threat, parents of students at the school were notified.

And when a threatening list with students’ names was found on the playground at Northwood Elementary School, school officials first contacted the parents of the students whose names were listed and then notified all parents whose children attend the school.

Deciding when to call parents, who should be called and what they need to be told varies depending on each situation, local school officials said.

While they want to respect parents’ wishes to know what is going on at their child’s school, they also don’t want to create panic or call parents too much.

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Before a meeting with parents earlier this year, Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray asked his administrators to tally up every incident they had recently looked into, from fights to bullying to issues with social media posts.

The count was more than 200 during a two-week period, he said.

If families got a notification for each of those incidents, the calls and alerts would become constant, and eventually parents would become numb to it, Spray said.

Local school officials understand the concerns parents have about their children being safe at school in light of recent incidents. But they also want them to know they take students’ safety extremely seriously as well.

“We wish we could tell people they are safe all the time, but you can’t guarantee that. But we will do whatever we can to keep them safe,” Franklin Schools Superintendent David Clendening said.

And part of that means not sharing every detail with the public, school officials said.

That includes all the details of how schools respond to an incident, Greenwood Schools Superintendent Kent DeKoninck said.

But officials do try to make parents feel comfortable that they are doing everything they can, from enforcing security rules and running practice drills for different scenarios, he said.

One concern is making sure to address rumors, which can quickly lead to panic among parents and students, superintendents said.

That was a key reason why Franklin school officials contacted parents after the list of students was found at Northwood Elementary recently, so everyone would have the facts about what was found and what was done, Clendening said. And the next day, when they found nothing that showed the list was credible, the school called parents again to keep them informed.

Social media is a continual problem for schools, DeKoninck said. School officials and police were contacted earlier this school year about a post on social media that appeared to refer to threats at a Greenwood school, but when they dug deeper into the post, they found it wasn’t even connected to one of their students, he said.

“We are chasing things that have been dealt with that are renewed or lead to new conflicts with social media. It has snowballed with new technology,” DeKoninck said.

That’s why school officials often keep many details private until they learn what they are dealing with, so they aren’t causing panic or leading to rumors being spread online, he said.

If something is happening, parents will be told, he said. But sometimes, school officials and police need time to sort through the details to know what is going on, he said.

“People get concerned that we aren’t telling them enough, but releasing erroneous information, letting that get out, hurts more than it helps,” DeKoninck said.

School officials make decisions on who to call and when based on each incident, Spray said.

If an incident impacted a few students, the school may only call those families. But other incidents result in a call to all parents in a certain school or in the entire school district, he said.

For example, the incident at Break-O-Day Elementary earlier this year involved a student who had used a social media filter of a cowboy and posted a photo of him holding a toy gun. School officials got the report, police were called and spoke to the student, and they determined there was no threat and the student never had an actual gun, he said.

“There is nothing that happens like this that is not investigated and looked into,” Spray said.

In that case, parents from the entire school were contacted so they knew what was going on, he said. But even before that, rumors had started to spread, with one parent calling after hearing children were shot at the school, he said.

“That is how big it got,” Spray said.

But at the same time, schools can only release so much information due to confidentiality rules, and they don’t want to impact any police investigation, Spray said.

That is a constant balance for school officials — being as timely as possible in communicating facts while not violating any laws or confidentiality rules, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Schools Superintendent Tim Edsell said.

But their hope is that they have built enough trust with parents and the community that they know officials will tell them everything they can as soon as they can, Edsell said.