Parents raise communication concerns after school threat
Parents and staff rebuked the East Grand School District at Tuesday’s school board meeting for the district’s handling of a school threat before winter break.
The threat reported Dec. 11 against Middle Park High School was found not to be credible. However, school was canceled across the district Dec. 19, the day before winter break, because of ensuing rumors.
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According to a letter the district sent parents on Saturday, the rumors that spread Dec. 18 could not be confirmed by any firsthand source. During the board meeting, Reeves described an unrelated power outage that also happened Dec. 18 and contributed to fears.
“After the power outage, there was virtually no way we could have school the next day,” Reeves said. “The school cancellation was not because we felt there was a threat or any danger of any kind. We weren’t going to have any kids at school and, if they were there, school wasn’t going to be worth having.”
The letter said that the student who made the initial remark has not been permitted to return to school and will not return until the threat assessment team determines there is no danger. The letter also said there was no evidence to support the rumors, including no weapons were ever reported or found at the school.
However, some parents felt like it was not clearly communicated that the threat was not credible before the break, and they expressed their disappointment with the lack of communication.
“I think if those facts had come out straightforward and timely, it really would have been helpful,” said Natascha O’Flaherty, whose son is a freshman at Middle Park.
Another parent with a daughter at the school expressed similar concerns.
“I just feel like the situation concerning the violent threat and closing down the school, the way that it was handled and the communication, could have been more timely and could have been more specific,” the parent said.
Staff were also frustrated with what they felt like was a lack of communication. Katrina Larson, who teaches art at East Grand Middle School, described her students’ fear during the power outage.
“On Wednesday when the lights went out, I had a classroom full of scared kids,” Larson said. “They thought the attack was happening. They asked me to lock the doors, and they were friggin’ scared. I didn’t know what to tell them.”
She conveyed the need for swifter communication with teachers to make sure they understand situations to best help students.
“If you’re in the classroom with 25 kids that are afraid, you would feel the importance,” Larson added.
The superintendent and board agreed that some information was not effectively communicated and said this incident would be used as a lesson.
“Reading through, there’s nothing that actually says the words, ‘There was not a threat found,’” Board Vice-President Angel Higginbotham said of the letter sent when school was cancelled. “I think just those words are reassuring.”
Granby Police Chief Jim Kraker took blame for some of the miscommunication.
“With parents, with staff, understand that breakdowns in communication regarding something like this, a large part of that does fall on me and that’s something we’re working on,” Kraker said.
During the meeting, the chief answered questions from parents, such as why the FBI was involved with the investigation. He explained that police reached out to the field agent assigned to Granby to look online for possible threats and the FBI found nothing.
District officials said they are reviewing feedback from parents, students and staff on how to better handle situations like this in the future.
“As a district, we will continue to train and learn to better recognize and handle threatening situations as well as work with our community experts to provide the safest, healthiest schools possible for all of our students,” the letter said.
Reeves said the school would offer a training session for staff on identifying students at risk of becoming a threat.
The letter also encouraged students who may have been traumatized by the incident to seek out help from school counselors.
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Diane Howell, 77, only leaves her house right now for errands and essentials. As part of the age group considered most vulnerable to COVID-19, she’s felt isolated as she avoids most social interactions.