Friday, June 06, 2014

Seattle Schools and Security

A reader put up a letter from Queen Anne Elementary principal, David Elliott, that was written in light of yesterday's Seattle Pacific U shootings (QA Elementary is fairly close by as is Coe Elementary).  Mr. Elliott calmly explains what they did once the event became known to this (and this happened as school had just ended for the day).

Apparently buses had left but there were many children and parents on the playground.  He made the parents aware of the situation.  He goes on:

 After some time making sure we were aware of where all children and adults were on our campus I had time to call our SPS Security. I was informed that SPD had contacted our security department and informed them there were no schools in the vicinity and no calls needed. I was, and am, completely unsatisfied with that decision for us and for Coe, which is situated eight or nine blocks from the SPU campus. I will certainly follow up on this with both SPD and our SPS Security Department.  (bold mine)

We received notice that our bus that went to the Nickerson vicinity was returning and those students were taken to a classroom with one of our teaching staff. We had several after school clubs that went on as normal with Shelter-in-Place procedures, as did Kids Co. We monitored our doors and when SPS security arrived on our campus we were informed we could end the Shelter-in-Place and proceed as normal.

I want to thank office staff for their confident handling of this situation and also thank our staff who stayed to watch doors, reassure students, follow twitter, and help keep a calm and caring presence.

Take care,

David Elliott--Principal"

So it is a bit unclear to me if SPD told SPS there were no schools nearby (I doubt it) but rather, SPS told SPD there were no schools nearby.  (I have a call in to confirm.)  Either way, there ARE schools nearby, at the time of the shooting there was a concern about a second shooter on the loose and hey, there were kids and parents out in on a playground.  As well one bus came back and those students had to be protected. 

I really appreciate Principal Elliott's pro-active approach in those first few minutes AND that he plans to follow up.  

The other issue is one just as concerning at one of our comprehensive high schools. 

There was a fight in a parking lot by a gym in mid-May.  A vice-principal and security officer went to investigate.  The fight was not there but at a nearby community building.  The vice-president told the two students fighting to stop and they did and the crowd started to disperse.

However, another student  (C) attacked one of the students who had originally been fighting and knocked that student to the ground.  The vice-principal took the original student who had been fighting to the office.  The staff at the community building was upset over the incident and asked if police should be called.  The security officer said no, the fight was over.

The security officer continued to clear the area but several students - one of them the second attacker (C) - argued harshly with the officer.  Student C called the security officer the "n" word and made threats against him.  The security officer requested the school office to call the police who came and "took control of the situation."  (No follow-up on what the police did so I don't know.)

Apparently this incident did not make it into the school's PowerSchool system so for student C, there was no record about his behavior towards the security officer. (The security officer wrote his own report.)

A week later, Student C came to a security officer at school (different person) saying he probably would not be graduating.  When the officer asked why, the Student C said he had held a knife to another student's throat earlier that day.  Student C said another student (not the one he threatened) heard about the knife and Security had checked his backpack and confiscated the knife.  It was an 11 inch knife. (I have seen the photo - it is an extremely frightening looking knife.)

Security asked if Student C if he had been "joking" with the other student but the Student C said no. 

For whatever reason (perhaps owing partly because the first incident involving him was never recorded), for Student C that meant just two days suspension.  

This student brought a large knife to school, admitted pulling it on another student to a security officer, the knife was found in his backpack and removed and yet he got just two days suspension AND was allowed back at the same school.

Only the intervention of the union, asking the school to consider the heightened factors, got the student removed and placed elsewhere (alternative site, not another comprehensive).  The student is supposed to graduate with his class next week but it is unclear if that will happen.

Here's what it says at the district's website about weapons:

Seattle Public Schools has a no tolerance policy towards weapons on its campuses and at District-sponsored activities.

I asked the district a few clarifying questions but they said they cannot answer any of them but yes, they have a zero tolerance policy.

I just don't get it.  I don't know why the district does not intervene on an issue like this - I thought pulling a knife on anyone at school would mean explusion (or, at least, long-term suspension).  

What if, coming off just two days suspension, that student decided to bring another knife to school and this time, use it on staff or other students?  Once again, the district sets itself up for a lawsuit. 

 Beyond troubling in both cases.


Anonymous said...

"What if, coming off just two days suspension, that student decided to bring another knife to school and this time, use it on staff or other students? " Or next time, a gun - because, they are like, so hard to get hold of here, right (sarcasm).
I'm curious Melissa, in this sort of situation do parents get notified at all. Because I would have a real issue sending my kid to school alongside one that takes a knife (or worse) to school and holds it against another student throat. And I would want to know, particularly if my child was one that was threatened or in regular close contact with the perpetrator. I realize this issue involves the right of students (even knife-toting ones) to be educated since it is a public school, but surely safety of the majority overrides an individuals right to education in this case.
Oh wait a minute - this is the same argument as gun control, where it seems that the safety of the majority clearly does not override one's individual rights to possess whatever deadly arsenal they want (or as Joe the Plumber charmingly put it "your dead kids don't trump my 2nd amendment rights").
So is there a system of notification of violent incidents or weapons at school? I mean, they send letter home about headlice, right, so there should be.
I would pull my kid out of school until the perpetrator was gone and I think lots of others would do the same. These things can escalate. 2 days off is nothing - just time to plot revenge.
In this day and age of school shooting and stabbings in the news all the time- SPS better get it's act together on this. We clearly currently can't stop kids obtaining weapons, and we don't have metal detectors or guards (do we at any sites?) to stop them bringing them into buildings so the least we can do is to act definitively (and enforce district policy) when this sort of thing occurs.

Do something

Melissa Westbrook said...

Do something, I don't believe parents are notified unless "something" happens. I have no idea what the parents of the boy who had the knife at his throat know or don't know.

As I said, very puzzling given the climate of the country we live in today. That SPS turns a blind eye costs us all.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Do something, I don't believe parents are notified unless "something" happens. I have no idea what the parents of the boy who had the knife at his throat know or don't know.

As I said, very puzzling given the climate of the country we live in today. That SPS turns a blind eye costs us all.

Anonymous said...

That note about what SPS told SPD and how they communicated with parents about the shooting has me concerned that they aren't really on top of their game. And it makes me concerned for kids safety.

Virtually every week the bus is 20-35 minutes late at least once, and only sometimes does the robocall come through, and usually at about the same time that my kid gets off the bus. At the beginning of the year when the bus simply didn't show up multiple times with no call, I was livid. Now, like every other parent, I've just accepted this chronically late and only marginally communicative bus situation.

Yesterday was no different, but it was terrifying, and I got little sense from SPS transportation that they were very concerned. Our bus drives directly by SPU at exactly the time this was going on.

"3:35 p.m. Seattle Police say they’ve found two victims after a shooting at Seattle Pacific University in North Queen Anne. One person is in custody, SPD says. Shooting reported at Nickerson and 3rd. Streets closed." (per My Ballard)

3:50 pm: typically bus leaves school (at this point, SPS should have known that they needed to re-route, shouldn't they? Should have put the robo-call in then?)

4:21 pm (30 minutes after the bus leaves school): I learned about this incident from my 6 year old calling from a borrowed cell phone from the bus. "Mama, there has been a shooting and the bus is going a different way." My question of, "WHAT?! where are you?" was met with a six year old response of "We are by the big glass building and the space needle." She told me the bus would be there soon, and said good bye. As I hung up, I got a text from a friend to avoid Nickerson because of the shooting.

4:25: I called the babysitter at to tell her that the bus was going to be late. No call yet from SPS to tell me that the bus is being re-routed, "but the kids are ok".

I turned on the TV to learn what was happening. Was the bus caught in crossfire?! Is there still a suspect on the loose? What is going on?

4:31 pm: I called SPS transportation and asked if they knew about the incident, and why they hadn't sent out the robocall to parents yet. He said they had, but when I asked "when?", he didn't say. I honestly got a bit animated at that point, because his tone was so nonchalant and seemingly not concerned. He said he would call back with more details. (He didn't call back.)

4:42pm: (1 hour and 7 minutes after SPD announced the road closure, and 12 minutes after my call to them) I get the robo-call from transportation, which is the same old automated message. "no, the kids are ok and the bus avoided the scene" probably because they didn't avoid the scene...

4:52pm: kid gets off the bus.

It was a terrifying 1/2 hour for me.

I'm wondering. Are they monitoring SPD and road closures down at the Transportation office? DID they notify the driver before he left school that he needed to re-route?! The bus would have LEFT school 20 minutes after they closed the road.

Did they actually put the robo call in before I called, or did they do it after I called?!

Mag parent

Anonymous said...

Oh, and more importantly, why wasn't the guy who answered the phone a bit more empathetic and informative. Something more like, "yes, we are aware and we are assured by the driver that the kids are ok. They are simply re-routed and expected to be xx minutes late. We put the robo-call out at XXX time. Rest assured that your child is ok and did not drive through the scene of the shooting."

Maybe I'm expecting too much?

Mag mom

mirmac1 said...

I have this word from the district:

"We wrote a grant this winter (and we were awarded the grant in May) to support such a system (and more)! We are beginning the installation next month, and are planning to train our principals (and schools) during August with a roll out to families this next school year."

I am hopeful that there will be real progress come August.