RISD admin puts rumors to bed

by By Cristin Parker news@mediactr.com

Details became a little muddy after a Rusk High School student was taken into custody and charged with making terroristic threats against other students last month.

Rusk Independent School District administrators and the Rusk Police Department worked together after a complaint came in from a student alleging another student was making terroristic threats on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Rusk High School.

RPD Chief Joe Williams said his department was notified by school officials of the incident on Oct. 30 and after speaking with the student, who is a Rusk resident, removed the juvenile to the police department. Because the student is a minor, law enforcement officials are not releasing a name.

“The juvenile was charged with making terroristic threats,” Williams said on Oct. 30. “The high school campus was not locked down at any time. There were no weapons of any kind involved in the incident.”

Williams made the distinction concerning a potential campus lock down and claims a weapon was involved in the incident, after rumors of a lock down and/or use of a weapon began to spread on social media sites.

“I would like to clarify what happened at Rusk High School (on Oct. 30) and correct some of the misinformation being shared. Please understand this is a student disciplinary issue so I will not be specific with details,” RISD Superintendent Grey Burton said in a statement posted on the district’s Facebook page on Wednesday, Oct. 31. “(On Oct. 30), a high school teacher was informed of an alleged comment made by a student. The alleged comment contained elements of a “threat” and the teacher shared the information with the Assistant Principal (AP). The AP immediately located the student who had allegedly made the comment and removed them from class. The AP then began investigating the claim by interviewing the student and others to determine the validity of the report. The student in question was under the direct supervision of the AP during the investigation.

“Shortly after the AP removed the student, rumors began spreading that the high school was on ‘lock down’ and a student had a ‘weapon’ on campus. Evidently this misinformation found its way to social media and people began calling the high school and Rusk Police Department. After receiving the calls, officers from the Rusk PD drove to the high school and interviewed the student, who was still in the AP’s office. After their investigation, the student was removed from the school and charged with ‘terroristic threats.’

“I was informed of the situation by the high school principal shortly after the school began to investigate. I contacted Rusk Police Chief Joe Williams immediately to make him aware of the situation and we remained in contact until late that evening when he posted -- and the District shared -- on Facebook information related to the day’s events.

“I want to assure everyone that the students and faculty at Rusk High School were not in danger at any point during the time of these events. A ‘lock down’ was never initiated, a weapon was not involved, and there was not a “hit list” of targeted individuals, as people have suggested. This was a student discipline issue that is also punishable as a crime. The Texas Statute that identifies “terroristic threats” as criminal activity also includes “false alarm or report” which might be applicable in this situation as well due to the erroneous information reported.

“Rusk ISD has very specific and well-planned procedures in place to address emergency situations. We are committed to working with our local first responders in developing and initiating these procedures. Our first priority is student safety and we will continue to refine and enhance our safety and security operations to protect our children.”

Numerous parents took issue with the district’s lack of notification, many citing via social media posts they’d received texts from their children on campus as to what was going on.

“I speak for the 98 percent of the parents when I say we had a right to know immediately after the threat was made,” RISD parent Dana Long posted as a response to Burton’s statement on the district’s Facebook page. “That was the issue – not how you handled the kid but how the district handled the notification. If you believe we didn’t have a need to know, then we have even bigger problems that [sic] we all thought.”

Other parents took the social media furor regarding the issue with a grain of salt.

“It shouldn't surprise me but yet, it does,” RISD parent Amy McCalister posted. “The speed of mis-information, over reaction and gossip that spreads over an incident of even remotely this nature. And by adults as well as teens. If a situation warranted the notification of parents, the school officials would have implemented whatever plan of action they have in place. Please people, get facts not hearsay. Rumors can ruin someone's life. We have competent administration in place for a reason.”

According to the Rusk High School Student Handbook, Rusk ISD uses Blackboard Connect, “an alert and notification service, to notify parents and guardians of school delays or cancellations due to inclement weather, as well as to send reminders about other important issues.

“The district will rely on contact information on file with the district to communicate with parents in an emergency situation, which may include real-time or automated messages. An emergency purpose may include early dismissal or delayed opening because of severe weather or another emergency, or if the campus must restrict access due to a security threat.”

Burton said because the issue wasn’t an emergency situation, parental notification was not considered necessary.

“This was a disciplinary issue,” Burton said. “The student in question violated the district’s student Code of Conduct. We don’t make it a practice to call out when a student breaks the code of conduct.

“There was no interruption in the school day at all. It was not the issue social media turned it into. Of course in any actual emergency situation, parents and guardians will be contacted.”

The code of conduct specifically lists, as part of its general conduct violations, threatening a district student, employee, or volunteer, including off school property, if the conduct causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment; and engaging in bullying, harassment, or making hit lists.

Burton also pointed out while the district permits students to possess personal mobile telephones for safety purposes, these devices must remain turned off and put away at all times during the school day and that the student code of conduct prohibits making false accusations or perpetrating hoaxes regarding school safety.

During an administrative meeting held Tuesday, Burton said he and campus administrators discussed the incident again and the school’s response to this or any other similar issue.

“We are all taking any kind of comments of a threatening nature very seriously,” Burton said. “We will punish any student found to be making these types of comments to the fullest extent of our ability. There’s just no place for that kind of behavior today. If someone says anything threatening, they should be prepared for punishment.”

Burton also said district administrators continue to examine the incident on Oct. 30 to determine the proper disciplinary action to take concerning the student in question.