Superintendent Jeff Harris faced difficult questions Thursday from the guardian of the child who was still hospitalized two days after she and other Crescent Elk Middle School students ingested an unknown quantity of over-the-counter pills.
Carrie Cook, who is the legal guardian of her great-niece, one of 15 students who sought medical attention after consuming the pills Tuesday, said Thursday her child suffered a Grand mal seizure as a result of the medication. Cook said her great-niece is improving and should be released from Sutter Coast Hospital today.
Stating that her own child should receive punishment along with the others who either took or disseminated the pills, Cook asked Harris what disciplinary action Del Norte County Unified School District would take. She wasn’t satisfied with the response.
“I understand you can’t tell me about the police (investigation) going on, but why isn’t the school taking a reaction to it?” Cook asked. “Like I said, mine is the one that’s in the hospital right now. The school does call me every day, one lady asked me how she’s doing but I haven’t been notified about what’s going on.”
Police are conducting a criminal investigation in the incident at Crescent Elk to determine why the students had taken the pills, Crescent City Police Chief Ivan Minsal told the Triplicate on Wednesday. Though Minsal wouldn’t say what the drug was, he said the pills had been shoplifted from a local merchant.
Fourteen out of the 15 students who sought medical attention due to the medication, either through the school nurse or at the hospital, were treated and released from the hospital as of Wednesday, according to Minsal. He said some students had taken two pills while others had ingested 10 to 15.
“The investigation is still ongoing as to what this trend is, why kids are doing this and who, if anybody’s responsible for bringing the pills to school,” he told the Triplicate on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Harris told the school board that the district is still working with law enforcement and while Crescent Elk officials were finalizing their investigation on Wednesday, the district has been asked not to share any information while the police continue the criminal investigation.
Following the incident, Crescent Elk Middle School Principal Paige Swan had his teachers discuss the dangers of over-the-counter drugs with students, Harris said. Parents of the students who had taken the medication were notified, Harris said. A phone call was also sent out telling parents about what had happened, according to Harris.
“The dissatisfaction in communication is that it’s been pretty vague,” he told the school board Thursday. “That’s because we have been asked by the police not to share the particular details.”
Harris also addressed the frustration about an apparent lack of discipline against the student thought to have brought the pills onto campus. He said sharing the details of any punishment, or any other components of a student’s record is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law, and under California law the investigation has to be finished before the discipline can be applied.
Addressing another parent’s statement that school staff should go through students’ backpacks, Harris said doing so is illegal unless school officials have reasonable suspicion. A police officer has to have probable cause to search a student’s backpack, Harris said.
“In the case of, let’s say a knife, I would have to have a reliable witness who came to me as the site principal who said I saw this student with a knife in their backpack. I now have reasonable suspicion,” he said. “I can’t randomly search backpacks.”
In response to Cook, Harris said under state law, they wouldn’t be able to discipline her great-niece until they were able to speak with her and get her side of the story. Though the district can’t use students’ names, Harris said officials will probably release more details about what actually occurred at Crescent Elk on Tuesday.
“We can’t tell you what happened with any child but your own,” he told Cook. “Having been a principal for years, I know it’s not satisfying and it doesn’t fill that need to know what’s happening. We can let the community know the situation and we can let them know some of the particulars, like what the over-the-counter medication was, what to look out for (and) how to secure it in your own homes.”
Marshall Jones, president of the Del Norte Teachers Association, said the district needs to provide support for the teachers at Crescent Elk in addition to the students.
“We need to have some counselors come to Crescent Elk and speak to the teachers, not just students, but teachers also,” Jones said. “Teachers are going through all those different multitudes of feelings that happen when a tragedy does occur and they’re trying to deal with that and I think it would be a good thing to do that.”
In other matters, Harris said he was notified Monday that the school district received a three-year, $350,000 grant for a second school resources officer. Harris said Minsal had approached him about working collaboratively to pursue grant funding for a second school resources officer who would focus on alcohol and tobacco prevention.
“Our initial conversation when we applied for the grant was to place the second SRO at Crescent Elk, so we’d have support at the high school and support at Crescent Elk,” Harris said. “I spoke to Eric Wier, the city manager, earlier this week, we’re going to be sitting down in the next week or two before the grant comes in to talk about the hiring and talk about placement of the employee.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .