St. John Parish leaders talk school threats with parents

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

“My grandkids were so scared, they didn’t want to come to school anymore.”

“Knowing what measures are being taken right now might relieve the anxiety I feel every morning when I send my kids off to school.”

 “Last year, LaPlace Elementary did something wonderful by allowing parents to go eat outside with their children. If they do it this year, my grandbabies will not be attending. They’re sitting ducks out in the open.”

These fearful statements shared Monday evening at a St. John the Baptist Parish School Board meeting show the impact of threats proliferating local schools and the country at large in the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida mass shooting.

An East St. John High student was removed from campus, arrested and booked yesterday by the St. John Sheriff’s Office for making terrorist threats in class. Several threat investigations have commenced in public and private schools in recent weeks, according to Sheriff Mike Tregre.

St. John Public Schools Superintendent Kevin George, Tregre and District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut reviewed the protocol for receiving allegations of school threats and answered community questions, many of which dealt with school-parent communication.

Robocalls will always be a little slower at notifying parents of potential threats than social media, according to George, because information released by the School District cannot be fueled by rumors.

Rather, information released to the public must consist of facts gathered from a thorough investigation.

The process includes school principals meeting with students who make allegations, while the Sheriff’s Office analyzes the potential threat to students’ safety.

“We take each and every threat as if it is going to happen unless we prove otherwise,” George said, adding proactive measures are being put in place to guard against future threats of violence.

An engineer is being hired to look at the 11 public schools and determine ways to make campuses more secure, George said. Newer schools such as Lake Pontchartrain Elementary have more safety features than older schools built during a time when school shootings were not a social concern, he said.

Single point entry ways are being added to all public schools, ideally before the end of this school year, according to George. He clarified these entry ways do not stop students from exiting and would have no impact on school evacuations for fires.

Tregre said getting students safely through the next three months is the primary focus, though he suspects school safety concerns won’t fade away anytime soon. Over the summer, the Sheriff’s Office, School Board and School District will consider other proactive measures including daily backpack searches, metal detectors or limiting cell phone communication during school hours.

“We don’t have the manpower to fit every school with a resource officer,” Tregre said. “I would hate to see schools turn into correctional units with armed staff and every door locked, but I’ve talked to sheriffs all over the state, and we’re all dealing with these issues.”

Students noticing the perpetrator acting “off” weeks in advance is a common theme regarding threats and school shootings, according to Tregre. He said parents should speak to their children, monitor social media and inform the Sheriff’s Office of potential threats by calling the non-emergency number, 985-652-9513.

Dinvaut reiterated the importance of parents and grandparents maintaining open communication with children.

“Parents need to talk to their kids about these incidents, because they may take it as a joke, think they’re being class clowns or just talking with friends when they say these things,” Dinvaut said. “Educate your children about the serious consequences that come along with these threats.”

To prepare students for the worst, local schools have conducted active shooter drills. Former East St. John High Principal Cory Butler said federal law mandates two lockdowns, two shelter in place drills and 10 fire drills per academic year.

Thus far, active shooter drills have been held when students are in controlled classroom environments, George said.

He and other officials are discussing holding drills during transition times between classes, as the Florida shooting happened when students were out in the open, after a fire alarm was pulled.

Other parents expressed concern over bullying protocol in schools, noting some threats were allegedly made in an attempt to get other students in trouble.

George said bullying is addressed in accordance to the law, and to call him at 985-536-1106 with any concerns not resolved by school principals.

Parents should also call to make sure they are signed up to receive robocalls, George said.