11/3/2022 4:11:00 PM NGHS parents seek GCS transparency after threat of violence
The response of school and law enforcement officials to an incident in the high school in September sparks frustration among parents and calls for accountability
by CHRIS BURRITT
NORTHERN GREENSBORO - Some Northern Guilford High School parents are seeking a meeting with Guilford County Schools (GCS) and law enforcement officials after saying they're concerned about the safety of students in the school.
Over the past three weeks, several Facebook posts by NGHS parent Janelle Robinson talking about a ninth grader's threat of violence against 13 other students in September has alarmed other parents. Some expressed fear for children and teachers and disappointment and distrust of school administrators, culminating in a meeting of more than 25 parents this past Tuesday, Nov. 1, to address their concerns.
"All of our children need to feel safe in school," Lisa Goddard told other parents meeting in the Ridgewood subdivision's clubhouse.
For more than an hour, parents expressed concerns about reports of frequent fights in the school, vaping in bathrooms, bullying and a lack of respect by students. Again and again, the conversation circled back to the threat of violence, prompting parents to call for a school-wide meeting to seek answers from the high school's administrators and the sheriff's deputy, or resource officer, assigned to the school.
The parents are also requesting the attendance of GCS Superintendent Whitney Oakley, Mike Richey, the district's executive director of safety and security, Sheriff Danny Rogers and Capt. Brian Hall, commander of the sheriff's School Resource Division.
Robinson suggested the meeting be held in a location away from the high school to give parents equal footing with school and law enforcement officials.
Parents said they want officials to explain GCS' rules and consequences for various offenses such as fighting, threats of violence and bullying. A lack of information from authorities following the threat in September led to confusion and skepticism among parents about how - and whether - rules in GCS' student handbook are enforced.
"There is a lack of consequences for bad behavior," parent Elena Wachendorfer said. Goddard added, "You yell 'bomb' on an airplane, they're taking you off and you're getting arrested."
School board member Deborah Napper told the parents she will relay their request for a meeting to GCS and law enforcement officials.
"I hear you say you want a zero tolerance policy," said Napper, who represents several schools, including Northern Guilford High and Middle, as the board's District 5 member.
Napper said GCS officials are limited in how much information the district can share about incidents in schools, based upon federal laws guarding medical information about individuals. Capt. Hall said state law prevents the sheriff's office from releasing certain information about juveniles, such as specifics about investigations and their outcomes and actions - or the lack of action - by juvenile courts.
"There was a threat," Napper said in the meeting earlier this week, referring to the September incident at NHS. Asked by a parent whether the student who threatened classmates had been evaluated mentally before being allowed to return to school, Napper said privacy laws prevent the disclosure of such information.
Parents expressed frustration about the lack of information being shared with them. In an Oct. 13 email to GCS and law enforcement officials, Robinson said parents deserve to know more.
"I am aware there are laws and guidelines pertaining to privacy and this could be handled discreetly but in a manner that ensures the safety of the 13 named and hundreds of other students," Robinson wrote in the email, which she shared Oct. 14 in her first Facebook post about the threat. "A student who has a verbalized plan should not be allowed in class. This student needs an education off campus."
Robinson also alerted NGHS parents that they'd be hearing from Janiese McKenzie, the school's principal, about the threat.
"We take every concern seriously, and the incident in question has been thoroughly investigated by GCS and the Guilford County Sheriff's Office, who have confirmed that there is no threat to our school," McKenzie wrote in an email. "To help keep rumors from spreading, please only share information that you can personally verify. If you hear or see something of concern, tell a school administrator or law enforcement, who will fully investigate the matter. The safety of students and staff is our top priority."
In an email to the Northwest Observer earlier this week, Capt. Hall wrote, "We completely understand the concerns expressed by some parents at Northern Guilford High School. While we cannot discuss the particulars of this investigation, what we can disclose is the Guilford County Sheriff's Office does not feel this threat was ever credible, and much of the information being shared on social media or otherwise about this incident is factually inaccurate."
GCS is taking a similar position. In a statement earlier this week, the district told the Northwest Observer that "it has been alleged that a Northern Guilford student has continued to make ongoing threats since an initial incident was investigated and addressed in September. This matter has been thoroughly investigated and found to be inaccurate."
The district went on to say that, broadly, it is "committed to investigating both sides of an issue and protecting all students and staff. We follow established guidelines for conducting threat assessments and appropriately administering disciplinary consequences."
Violating GCS policies related to students engaging in or threatening violence or fighting among themselves can lead to out-of-school suspension, possibly for long term, according to the district's student handbook.
"The safety of students and staff is our top priority and we are taking all safety matters seriously," the district's statement said. "We will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure that our schools remain safe environments for all of our students and staff."
In a Facebook post Oct. 21, Robinson said she walked around the high school and saw that two doors were open. She posted a photo of a door cracked open.
"How safe are our kids?" she wrote. "Isn't that how the shooter in Uvalde, (Texas) got inside the school? We have to do more to protect our students. We need a zero-tolerance policy for death threats."