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Author: Matt Rawlings

School response inconsistent with policy in wake of threat, bullying at Cummings


Of the Keizertimes

On Nov. 28, during a lunch recess at Cummings Elementary School, a third-grade girl pulled a knife on one of her female classmates and threatened to kill her according to a Dec. 19 article from the Statesman Journal. 

The article also stated that, after the knife was taken away by a member of the staff, a male student choked the victim for “snitching.”

Lillian Govus, director of community relations and communications with Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS), acknowledged that an incident between three students did occur, but said she could not confirm details regarding what happened or comment on the version of events in the Statesman Journal story.

When situations like this happen, it is the school’s job to engage the threat assessment team, which  consists of law enforcement, school leadership, counselors, behavior specialists and teachers.

According to school officials, the threat assessment team was engaged, and the two students who were the aggressors in the incident had their parents called immediately to discuss disciplinary action. 

“We always do our best to call parents first so they can hear from trusted adults who have all the facts,” Govus said.

However, the victim’s parents were not called or notified of the situation and did not find out about what had happened until the victim’s father picked her up from school later that afternoon.

Even though the school was able to contact the parents of the two kids who were the aggressors in this incident, Govus claimed that the school didn’t call the victim’s parents because the situation “happened toward the end of the day.”

The victim did not attend school on Thursday, Nov. 29 or Friday, Nov. 30. Contact between the two sides was made on Nov. 29 via phone call, but the parents of the victim didn’t meet with Cummings Principal Magda Romero until the following week. All three students were back in class on Monday, Dec. 3. 

When a student brings a weapon to school, district policy states officials will generally:

• Confiscate the item.

• Contact the parent.

• Refer to law enforcement.

• Issue suspension with recommendation for expulsion.

In the case where a student assaults another person, they will not return to the classroom until his/her assigned consequence has been completed. The policy states that they may be reassigned to another class or school. 

In the event of an assault, school district policy calls for making referrals to law enforcement and to consider options such as: a 10-day suspension, restitution, expulsion, and mental health evaluations of counseling, in addition to the consequences for bringing a weapon to school. 

When students are found to have been bullying or threatening other students, possible consequences include: conflict management meetings, in-school or out-of-school suspension, referrals to law enforcement, conferences with parents prior to return to school, possible continued suspension leading to expulsion and evaluation of a student’s mental health. 

Romero believes that she did everything in her power to follow district policy despite all three students returning to class on the same day, only five days after the alleged threats and assault. 

“It’s my job to make sure we’re following what that handbook says for discipline,” Romero told the Statesman. “That’s why the student was able to reach her parents before I could. I have never put parents off to come meet with me. I have an open door policy, they can come in whenever.” 

Govus echoed the sentiments offered by Romero. 

“Principal Romero did the right thing by engaging the threat assessment team and immediately investigating so disciplinary consequences could be administered,” Govus said. “Dealing with situations like these are not easy, and she moved quickly to ensure her students were safe.”

However, Govus did acknowledge that the situation could have been handled in a more timely matter.

“The process took a little more time than it should have,” Govus said. 

Govus also added that “Principal Romero is a first-year principal, and she’s still developing her own communication style. As a district, we’re still adjusting our communications procedure as a whole.”

The specific details of the disciplinary action that Cummings took will not be released, Govus said. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects all student information from public records, including academic records and disciplinary records.

“We know children are going to have conflicts. However, if they are in a professional environment with trained behavior specialists and guidance counselors to support them, they have a much better chance of learning from that conflict, understanding what resolution looks like, realizing the consequences and actively making better choices in the future,” Govus said.

On the morning of Dec. 17, almost three weeks after the Nov. 28 incident, Romero sent out an email to the parents of Cummings regarding safety. Although she did not specifically address the altercation, she did talk about how the school is proactively working to support the children.

“I’m proud of our Cummings community, and my promise to you and your child is that our school will remain a safe place for all students to learn and grow,” Romero said in the email. She also directed parents to an anti-bullying website and an anonymous tip website for the Oregon Department of Education. 

Later that day, in a case of terrible timing, a knife was found in one of the classrooms. According to Romero, the safety of the school was not compromised and there is no connection between the two incidents.

Romero sent out another email at 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 17 to notify the parents of Cummings about the second incident. 

“As you know, safety is our most important priority. “Honesty and transparency play critical roles in safety, which is why I’m sharing this message with you,” Romero said in the email.

There will be a Safety Town Hall Meeting at Cummings on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. 

The SKPS Office of Safety, Security and Risk Management, SKPS Office of Behavioral Learning, SafeOregon and the Keizer Police will all be attendance to share ways to work together to keep children safe.