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Threat prompts policy discussion at schools

Education News

A verbal threat that occurred at one of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District’s schools has awakened interest in how local school districts deal with threats of violence.

The incident, conveyed to the Cottonwood Journal Extra by a parent, is alleged to have occurred last week between students at Mountain View Preparatory.

According to the parent, the threat involved specific acts of violence including killing, and featured a firearm, yet neither he nor the child’s mother were informed by the school’s administration that their child had been threatened.

COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren stated on Friday, April 28, that she had not spoken with MVP Principal Stephanie Jones concerning the incident but did call her following receipt of an emailed inquiry from the EXTRA.

“We do have policies in place,” U’Ren said via email. “The principal does have authority to make the determination on discipline issues given their knowledge of the situations.

“There is a range of actions that may be taken depending upon age and degree from talking to the child, speaking with the parents, counseling, school discipline, threat assessment, a board hearing or involvement of the police.”

According to U’Ren, it is a principal’s discretion whether or not to speak with all parents of children involved in a verbal threat or only the parents of the student who threatens, depending upon the viability of the threat.

“I do not hear about many verbal threats,” U’Ren added. “Usually, they are when a child flies off the cuff with an angry statement. When we do have a threat that is determined to be a viable threat, we have a threat assessment team that is called in to assess the situation and make recommendations.”

U’Ren provided copies of the district’s “Threats and Verbal Abuse” policy:

First occurrence:

  • Minimum: Informal talk; Maximum: Parent involvement

Subsequent occurrence:

  • Minimum: Parent involvement; Short-term suspension

Camp Verde Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Goodwin said Monday, May 1, that he would not leave determination of the viability of a verbal threat up to principals.

“The school, how are they effective at determining if that’s a threat or not?” Goodwin said, adding that in his view leaving threat determination up to administrators leaves schools liable. “The whole thing, when you threaten to kill somebody, schools have to take that very seriously.”

According to Goodwin, age doesn’t matter when it comes to disciplinary action for threats of violence.

“If this was an elementary kid, they would be suspended for three to five days,” Goodwin said, adding that the suspension period could be longer, up to nine days.

Goodwin said that every threat of bodily harm that occurs in CVUSD is investigated by the police in parallel with the district. In effect, Goodwin said, two investigations occur to evaluate the extent of the impact a threat may have on students and staff.

“We take every threat very seriously [and] we don’t make that determination [of the viability of a threat],” Goodwin said. “The police do.”

An informational meeting about verbal threats is planned between U’Ren, Jones and the EXTRA.

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