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Updated 11:00am - Nov 26, 2014

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Parents take lockdown complaints to board

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Upset parents of Mary Peacock students, this week, will officially voice complaints about how two school officials allegedly mishandled a multi-school lockdown Feb. 14 when a gunman was suspected to be near the high school.

Denise McDevitt, Kathy Higgerson and their husbands will appear before the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees Thursday night at the boards public meeting. The parents are requesting the board to reprimand Superintendent Walt Hanline and Mary Peacock Principal Rick Smith.

I just want to be taken seriously. I feel that Mr. Hanline is skirting the issue and is instead attacking me, McDevitt said.

The complaint stems from a decision by the superintendent to not secure Mary Peacock School and its students during the three hour search for a gunman in the area.

Specifically, the Higgersons and McDevitts are upset that principal Smith left the schoolgrounds during the search to attend a meeting at Smith River School. Smith is also accused of neglecting to inform the teachers at his school of the supposed gunman.

Mr. Smith assumed it was safe to leave the school site without getting clarification. Instead of taking precautionary measures, Mr. Smith treated the incident with blatant disregard, McDevitt said.

Initially, Higgerson and McDevitt filed their complaints about Smith with Hanline. The two parents said, however, that Hanline dismissed their concerns and left them unsatisfied with how the complaints were handled.

Walts saying you got an apology, that should be enough. He has always taken a hard-line stance on accountability. Its time for him to practice what he preaches, McDevitt said.

In a letter to McDevitt and Higgerson, Hanline did apologize for the impact of his decision not to secure Mary Peacock and its students, even while Crescent Elk, Bess Maxwell, Joe Hamilton and the high school were.

Mr. Smith and I both have shared with you that we would make different decisions if the circumstances repeated themselves, Hanlines letter said.

He also said Mr. Smith did not know specifically about the search for the gunman.

I believe Mr. Smith acted properly ... and I will not place a letter of reprimand in his file, said Hanline.

Apparently, Mr. Hanline does not feel that the safety of my son warrants accountability, McDevitt said.

The promise to secure all schools in the district during such an emergency does make the McDevitts and Higgersons happy, they say.

But, my whole issue is that once questions were being raised, they werent forthright about the whole matter, Higgerson said.

The day after the Feb. 14 event, the two parents spoke with Smith and Hanline to express their concern.

They told us entirely different stories, Higgerson said.

The two parents claim first Smith said he didnt know about the lockdown, then later said he thought it was at Crescent Elk, then later said he thought the whole thing was just a drill.

Which is it, Mr. Smith? asked McDevitt.

The lack of consistency in information about the incident provided by both Hanline and Smith is what spurred the parents to make their formal complaints. McDevitt said even a mild letter of reprimand for Smiths personnel file would help insure such events are handled better in the future.

But, Hanline says the parents complaints are unfounded.

Frankly, Mr. Smith acted in a logical manner. I strongly believe your complaint is more about embarrassing Mr. Smith than it is about resolving the issues. I am disappointed with your approach, Hanlines letter said.

Because of Hanlines letter, the McDevitts and Higgersons decided to take their grievance to the districts board members.

They have been invited by the board to voice that grievance in closed session at 5 p.m., Thursday, two hours before the public school board meeting at 7 p.m.

The public is welcome to comment on any matter in the boards jurisdiction during the meeting.

They also vowed to raise the issue during the public board meeting.

Every complaint will be taken seriously. We do have some upset parents. Were going to explore what actions should be taken - assuming actions need to be taken, said board member Bob Berkowitz.

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