Staff at Summit Charter School was notified of an alleged threat made by a student against the school on Friday, Sept. 20. The incident occurred toward the end of the school day and the student was restricted from campus. On Oct. 2, school officials reported that the student had been expelled.
“We have concluded our discipline proceedings in response to the allegations of a student communicating threats to school safety on our campus. As a result of the proceedings, the student of concern has been expelled from Summit Charter School,” reads the prepared statement. “We will continue to collaborate with the family of the student and Jackson County as they put in place services and support for the student. This case remains an open investigation with Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Juvenile Justice.”
On Friday, Sept. 20, students reported to Summit Charter School staff that a student on campus had allegedly communicated verbal statements to other students threatening the safety of the school. There was no incident of weapons on campus, nor an incident of a threat being carried out.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Department responded to the report, and authorities confirmed that the school was under no imminent threat and that the campus was safe. Authorities conducted an investigation of the report on Sept. 23 and 24. On Sept. 25, with information verified from the investigation, the school notified parents.
“Jackson County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the school was safe, and parents were notified as soon as the information reported was verified through the immediate investigation of our School Resource Officer and Jackson County Sheriff’s Department,” said Head of School Kurt Pusch.
Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin explained his district’s proceedings under such circumstances. The main difference being the timeline. Summit notified parents five days after the incident and shortly thereafter Facebook postings began appearing.
“In any emergency such as this, it is our goal to first secure the safety of students and staff. Often in an emergency, it takes us some time to determine the facts. Once we have the school secure and are fairly certain of the situation that we are dealing with we communicate with parents,” said Baldwin. “We make this information available to parents to reduce their anxiety and to get out in front of all the false information that normally accompanies these events. Typically, parents quickly begin to receive text messages and other communications that have inaccurate or incomplete information. It is always our goal to get accurate information to parents as quickly as feasible under the circumstances.”
Baldwin said in the Macon County School system staff members have designated roles within the emergency operations plan that involve communicating with parents and media.
“While we do our best under the circumstances of a critical incident to notify parents and community as soon as feasible, there are no specific requirements under the law to make these notifications. It really is more about building trust while empathizing with the needs of parents and the community to know what is happening with their children,” he said.
Baldwin said since each school in the Macon County system now has an SRO, law enforcement is immediately notified.
“Law enforcement, that being the SRO officer, plays an integral role in securing the facility,” he said. “We make every attempt to notify parents on the day of the event. I have found that we are in a much better position if we can ‘beat’ the story home to parents.”
Summit staff held question and answer sessions with parents on Sept. 25 and 26 and continues to be available for families.
“It’s sad the situation has rippled through the community and people are understandably rattled,” said Pusch. “I want to ensure people that our school is safe and we’re going to make sure it stays that way.”
Jackson County Sheriff’s Dept. Maj. Shannon Queen said they are limited in what information can be released and has referred the case to the Dept. of Juvenile Justice. Pusch said Summit is cooperating with all agencies involved.
Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland said there aren’t any laws outlining a notification timeline either to parents or law enforcement.
“As far as parents being notified, in Macon county they would have been notified at the appropriate time which generally starts with a notification on Social Media. It is the responsibility of the school system to notify,” he said. “We have an exceptional relationship with our school system and the Sheriff and Superintendent are always communicating concerning school safety and incidents that occur on any Macon County campus. This would include our community college and private school campuses.”
Pusch said the school has maintained open communication with students and families throughout the school community.
“We have hosted three Town Hall meetings and the entire school community has and will continue to receive ongoing communications regarding the school safety matter,” he said. “Additionally, our school counselors provided parents, faculty, and staff with information and resources on how to talk to students about school safety.”
In Wednesday’s statement officials said as a school, they will draw on this situation as an opportunity to assess safety procedures and protocols, and to identify active steps the school community can take to ensure the campus remains a safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environment.