Local schools deal with safety threats

  • Written by Tim Kukes

For many parents, social media, specifically the NSD Discussion Group on Facebook, was the first source for them to hear about a safety issue incident that occurred at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore on Monday, Oct. 5.

According to the Northshore School District, disturbing notes containing potential suicidal ideation and references to harming others had been distributed about the Inglemoor campus. The author of the notes had been quickly identified, taken into custody and the police notified — all according to protocol, Leanna Albrecht, NSD communications director, said.

The Kenmore Police Department investigated the matter and determined that it was appropriate to defer action to the school, Chief Cliff Sether said in an email.

The issue was the time that elapsed between the incident and notification to the parents by the school.

“I was pretty upset and disappointed,” Corinne Patten, whose daughter attends IHS, said.  “…I thought after all that stuff last year they were finally going to have everything in order, have the procedures and follow them. So to find out about the incident on social media was really upsetting.”

As the situation had been quickly dealt with and no immediate danger to the broader school community had been determined, the school decided to focus on the needs of the distressed student. A message to the students’ families was planned for the next day, Albrecht said.

Erika Olsen also found out about the incident through social media. Though she emailed the school for more information late Monday evening and received a reply early Tuesday morning, she didn’t receive an official notification until later in the afternoon Tuesday — after her daughter was home from school.

“I didn’t understand why a simple factual communication couldn’t have gone out sooner, to assure parents that school administration was aware of the situation and on top of it,” Olsen said.

When asked what she would have liked from the school, Olsen said, “A communication allowing parents to make an informed decision about having kids attend school that day. I think early Tuesday morning would have been appropriate — before kids started arriving on campus.”

Social media offers a whole new dimension to the way parents and students share and receive information. It is also a challenge for school district staff because of the time frame when that information is shared.

“Social media is great, but there is an immediacy that goes along with it which impacts response and communication,” Albrecht said.  “It was unfortunate that with social media messages happening after school hours and not being aware of what was happening it made it a disadvantage for the school because we strive to effectively communicate with our families.”

According to Albrecht, the school district does have protocols for dealing with school safety issues, though there is a degree of leeway in communicating information, as shown by an unrelated incident involving a 12-year-old boy in possession of a pellet gun on the Woodinville High School grounds.

Police answered a call on Sept. 30 reporting a person was on top of a cargo container on the edge of school property and aiming what appeared to be a weapon at something on the ground.  The incident happened after school hours and the high school was put into temporary lockdown while the police handled the matter.

Woodinville Police Chief Kathleen Larson confirmed by email that the incident occurred on high school grounds and police were dispatched at 3:35 p.m. The boy was quickly brought into custody, processed and released to a parent. Chief Larson declined to comment further due to the incident involving a juvenile and being an open case.

The communication for the Woodinville High School incident was all internal, Albrecht said. The school immediately went into lockdown upon sighting the suspect situation, practicing players were brought indoors and the staff was alerted to the situation.

“If there is an incident where it doesn’t have a broad impact on the student population immediately, for example let’s say there is a situation where students get in a fight on the playground or a student is caught in possession of an illegal substance or a student with mental health challenges,” Albrecht said, “we would respond and address the situation, but we aren’t going to be doing a broader school communication to families regarding some individual student.”

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