School threat plans eyed

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate May 28, 2014 05:10 pm

After a perceived threat caused local schools to go on high alert and sparked confusion among parents, education officials say they will pursue a memorandum of understanding with Crescent City and Del Norte County in an effort to better share information.

Del Norte County Unified School District Superintendent Don Olson said the MOU will outline who is responsible for advising local private schools, charter schools and College of the Redwoods in the event of a threat. He said he will bring that MOU before the Board of Trustees shortly.

Olson said he will also come to the Board with a proposal from the Del Norte County District Attorney’s Office that would re-establish a school resources officer. 

The school district cut the school resources officer position at the start of the 2012–13 school year in an effort to save money. Cutting that position saved the school district about $68,000. 

“They feel they could assist us with an officer for about half the rate we had been paying,” Olson said, referring to the DA’s office. 

A potential MOU between the school district, city and county and a potential reinstatement of a school resources officer were among a list of proposed changes Olson brought to the School Board on Thursday. The proposed changes came after Olson, Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack and Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson met with parents, teachers and district staff following the threat.

At 9:45 p.m. on April 28, a high school student posted what appeared to be a threat against an unspecified school in the county on the social media website Whisper.com. Whisper.com allows users to anonymously post a picture overlaid with text. A Crescent City police officer noticed the message shortly after it was posted and notified school officials at about midnight.

The district notified parents via an automated call at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday. Schools stayed in session, though parents were welcome to sign their students out. At about noon on Tuesday, the high school student came forward and accepted responsibility for the post.

At a meeting on May 6, Olson promised parents that they would receive early notification via the district’s auto-dialer phone system in the event of any type of threat. The notification would go out in English, Spanish and Hmong, Olson said. If law enforcement thought the threat was minor, school would be kept in session, but parents would be able to keep their children at home. If law enforcement thought the threat was serious, Olson said, the district would cancel school.

In addition to its phone system, the district would post information about the threat on its website and Facebook page and on the Prepare Del Norte website, Olson said. The district would also disseminate information to BiCoastal Media, which would then communicate to all other media. Another notice would go out when law enforcement felt the threat was over, he said.

On Thursday, Olson said the district will also hold a community meeting that focuses on digital citizenship, which is taught in Del Norte High School’s 21st Centuries Skills class. He said the district will train whoever shows up to the meeting.

Trustee Lori Cowan said talking to parents about technology and digital citizenship is necessary.

“When your 17-year-old says to you, ‘Hey Mom, it wasn’t kids online creating the drama, it was all adults,’ that made me think, you’re right,” Cowan said. “We need to teach our parents as well.”

Olson said the district would also notify parents if a school is on lockdown, but added that parents would also be told that they would not be able to pick up their student until the lockdown was over.

Sunset High age minimum

In other matters, the School Board also voted on revisions to its policy regarding the age requirement for students enrolled at Sunset High School, the district’s only continuation school. The revised policy states that no student below the age of 16 can attend Sunset High School unless the student is pregnant, a parent or homeless, according to Principal Tony Fabricius. 

This change comes as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC, does its mid-year review of Sunset. The change also reflects the California State School Board’s policy concerning continuation schools, which was revised in April, Fabricus said.

“This really gives me and Mr. Olson backing to say no to enrollees below the age of 16,” he said. “Typically, continuation high schools are meant to support juniors and seniors in high school who are behind on credits.”

The revised policy also focuses on maintaining Sunset’s student-teacher ratio between 15:1 and 20:1. 

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