Parents look for answers from district

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

Several parents approached Weston County School District No. 1’s Board of Trustees on Dec. 11 expressing concerns about faulty information being communicated to parents, as well as a lack of transparency in situations at different schools in the district. The safety of students within the district has also become a concern for parents, as they question why situations are not being handled in a manner that would better protect the victims in “threat” situations. 

 

High school incident

“I am here to raise some questions and concerns about what happened at the school today, as far as letting parents know what is going on,” Mike Hinshaw, a concerned parent, said at the Dec. 11 meeting. 

Hinshaw was referring to an incident in which a text had been sent to parents of Newcastle High School students stating that a lock down “drill” had been conducted at the end of the day. What had actually occurred was anything but just a drill, which was verified after the fact by WCSD No. 1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix. 

At the meeting, Hinshaw explained to the school board that his concerns began when the high school was in lockdown and the middle school was not notified of the situation. 

“I had a daughter walking to the high school to meet my son, she knew nothing,” Hinshaw said. 

He said that the lack of communication between the two schools that are connected by one common area is a concern for himself and other parents, as is the lack of communication with parents and the community regarding the actual situation, which came to light later. 

“We heard from our son about what happened before anything was even sent out,” Hinshaw said, noting that what was then communicated by the school did not match the situation described by his son. His wife, Amanda, added that their daughter felt very unsafe in the situation because there was no context as to what was being told to parents versus what was actually occurring. 

“First of all, I want to apologize that it went out as a drill,” LaCroix said about the notice originally sent out. “The idea was that what we were doing was totally precautionary and it was to keep kids out of the area in which we had the situation.” 

Newcastle High School Principal Tracy Ragland added that the situation was “very fluid,” and the student had to be isolated. 

“I didn’t want to put more pressure on that than I needed to; we were dealing with it minute by minute,” Ragland said at the meeting. “We had to make the decision to bring law enforcement in because it wasn’t a situation we could handle. We needed to have our kids away from the situation and we needed to be able to account for them so they don’t come across something or get involved in something. That is why we locked down.” 

He added that the protocols were taken strictly to protect the student involved and that in these situations the school, unfortunately, has to use confidentiality to protect the student. 

“I apologize and I know it was really confusing,” Ragland said. “All that we were going to do was shut the doors so we could maintain the situation and we knew who was in the building while law enforcement was there.” 

He noted that he had honestly not thought about the middle school as part of the situation until sitting down for the school board meeting, and that he accepts the responsibility for the situation.

The following day the school district issued a statement.

“To our patrons and the Newcastle community, on the afternoon of Wednesday Dec. 11, the lock down protocol was implemented at Newcastle High School in an effort to isolate a student behavior issue, and limit the exposure of student and staff members to the disturbance,” a letter dated Dec. 12 from LaCroix stated. “Unfortunately, Weston County School District #1 officials erroneously reported to the community that the lock down protocols had been implemented as part of a ‘drill’, and that announcement created additional confusion and concern for students, parents and community members.” 

 

Elementary school incident

Adding to the safety concerns for Weston County School District No. 1, which was also discussed on Dec. 11, is the Nov. 8 incident in which a “kill list” was discovered at Newcastle Elementary School, according to concerned parent Sean Crabtree. 

“We want to know why law enforcement is not in our schools,” Crabtree said at the meeting. “I am here today as a concerned parent to see if you guys are backing us before we take the next step. We want to know why law enforcement is not in our schools if everywhere else there is law enforcement. My phone blew up over this high school thing. There are more parents out there than you think that are concerned but will not voice their opinion.”

He noted that the parents have started a list of questions they want answered by the district, the first about that very thing — lack of law enforcement in Weston County schools. 

WCSD No. 1 Chairman Tina Chick explained that the school resource officer used in the past was removed because of funding.

“We absolutely back parents and we want our kids to feel safe. I feel that they are safe here. I have my kids in these schools. You have to know that I am doing, as far as my position on the board, everything we can do. The amount of money, time and resources we have put into safety in our schools is astronomical. We have cameras on every bus and in every corner of the school, all the doors are locked, we have extra counselors on staff and we have TAC-1 training,” Chick said. “We are trying, and we are really putting forth the resources and effort to make sure our students are safe. What we can’t account for is people. We can’t account for what someone is going to do or not do on a daily basis.” 

Seemingly unsatisfied, Crabtree again spoke of the need to have law enforcement in the district’s schools.  

“Bottom line, we have questions and we want to know what is happening with our kids. Monday night this kid was in the auditorium. Why is he still coming in our schools,” Crabtree questioned. 

Trustee Jason Jenkins explained that the Newcastle City Council and Weston County Commissioners need to be involved in any discussion about officers in schools, because any law enforcement would be employees of those entities. 

“We see a disconnect between the district and law enforcement, and we want to bring that together. We discussed the city council and meeting there, but we wanted to gauge your support. We want to work together,” Crabtree said. “What we want to do, we want to do as a group and community to ensure the safety of all students. We want to get everyone on the same page with law enforcement and the school district.” 

Chick said that the school board, as a group, will work with everyone whether they are parents, law enforcement, or attorneys.

“We are committed to making sure the kids are safe, yours and mine. We want to make that the case and make sure everyone is safe,” Chick said. “We hear your frustration and we are open to working with law enforcement. We need them on occasion and we absolutely want to work with them, and hope they want to work with us. In the terms of a presence here, the best we can do is ask, and the worst they can say is no. The bottom line is, we can certainly ask those things. I know we are doing the best we can and hope everyone knows that. We are open to all of your ideas.” 

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