We ran a front page story last week in both the Cottonwood Journal Extra and The Camp Verde Journal about threats made by a student to another at Mountain View Preparatory, a kindergarten to eighth-grade school in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.
The specific threat could have been made at any school, which should serve as a warning to parents to make sure their children are safe but also make sure they teach their own children right from wrong and to not say things in anger they may later regret. Sticks and stones can break bones but words can lead to suspension, expulsion or police involvement.
Yet with the increase in school violence, on-campus shootings — especially after the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 — schools take the threats of violence seriously, which is why we were curious to know the policies local districts have when a threat is made.
The takeaway from the story is that there is no set guideline and each district and each school in the Verde Valley deals with threats differently. A first-term Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board member I spoke with last Friday said she read the story and immediately contacted her superintendent to ask what their school district’s policy was.
Some schools discuss the incident with the student and his or her parents. Others also involve the other parents of other students. Some suspend students while others contact the police for a full investigation.
It’s hard to flesh out a uniform policy that keeps everyone safe and makes everyone happy. Threats are not often black-and-white declarations, but far more nuanced — shouted in the heat of game at recess, or in a hallway after an altercation, between two students in the back of classroom, by a bully attempting to intimidate or a victim as a veiled revenge.
At the start of the year, principals should make clear to parents and their children what sort of response schools will have for different types of threats or acts of violence, and remind students and parents throughout the year if incidents escalate the types of punishments kids could face.
Parents should also meet with school boards and site councils to tailor their school’s policies to best fit community values and conflict resolution, be it zero-tolerance or nuanced and incident-specific.
Parents uncertain about their schools’ policies should call and ask, then impart to their kids the repercussions.
Good behavior is not just something that’s important when authority figures are around, but whenever students share public spaces with other people, something that will make them better citizens long after graduation.
Christopher Fox Graham