When I was the Safety Director for a large school district, at the end of each day I would create a to-do list on a legal pad I kept on the corner of my desk. When I came to work the next morning, I knew if the message light on my phone was blinking, I was not going to make it through my list. There was never a routine day for me.
The same holds true with the work I do with schools today. However, the challenges schools face today are beyond what I faced during my thirty years as an educator. I was asked if I would talk to a building principal regarding a parent who was causing concerns because of her behaviors and interaction with the office staff. Her child has missed about 60% of the school year and Children’s Services is now involved, along with the Family Court. The parent was blaming the principal and making veiled threats in front of the office staff. There have been some disturbing emails sent and accusations made stating the principal is attempting to get her child removed from the home. Based on the totality of the circumstances, I recommended the parent be sent a letter letting her know she was no longer allowed on school property and all contact had to go through Central Office.
The next day I was asked to talk with another building principal because of her concern with a parent. Child custody agreements were the issue and the father’s behaviors, constant phone calls, and messages left were becoming more bizarre. He knew his child was on spring break, but he left multiple messages every day because no one was in the building to answer the phone. His ex-wife told the principal he was not taking medication and she had filed for a Civil Protection Order, which he violated, and now had warrants out for his arrest. The parent started calling the principal every day, demanding she file ‘charges’ with Children Services because the mother was allegedly abusing the child. There was no evidence of any child abuse. After listening to his messages, I recommended he was no longer allowed to be on school property and all contact had to go through Central Office, too. I had the building principal file a report with the police department to document his behavior.
At 0730 the next day, the principal sent me an email with screen shots of the parent’s Instagram account.
Please note that the post may be disturbing to some readers.
I immediately contacted the local Law Enforcement Agency. Police officers were assigned to the two schools his child attended for security. The police worked with the jurisdiction where he lived, and he was arrested on his outstanding warrants. Working with the county prosecutor, the father was charged with Telecommunications Harassment because of the number of calls and messages he made to the school and Inducing Panic because of his Instagram posts. The first time he went before the judge, the charges were added to his case. It has been three weeks and he is still in jail. When he does get released, I will get an email notification from the courts.
One of the topics I speak on at conferences is the importance of building relationships with your First Responders. There is an adage that states:
This incident illustrates that point. From assigning officers to the schools to working with prosecutors, this law enforcement agency did everything possible to make sure the students and staff at the schools were safe. I was kept up to date with calls and texts from the lieutenant in charge of investigations. Although the case is still pending and will be winding its way through court for some time, the lieutenant and I have already done an informal After-Action Review to make sure the school followed their Emergency Operation Plans and the police department followed policy and procedures. We found gaps, primarily in training, and are working to correct these gaps.
We will never know if this was a near miss. We do know that developing a Multi-hazard Emergency Operations Plan with First Responders, using a Threat Assessment Team to evaluate the behaviors and threats, and having a great relationship with the local law enforcement agency meant we did not have to stop a threat when it was at the school. We stopped the threat when he was still at his house.