Parents of Hartford School District students expressed anger, frustration and a sense of betrayal in a special and short School Board meeting regarding safety concerns on Thursday.
School Board President Eric Lanman opened the meeting with a lengthy prepared statement, explaining that the board members could not under state and federal privacy laws address disciplinary matters regarding students or staff. He asked those audience members who signed up to speak to avoid using names or employment positions in their comments.
Lanman assured the crowd, “Your child is safe. Your child was never in danger, and appropriate steps are being taken or have been taken to correct the situation.
On March 14, a 16-year-old Hartford High School student allegedly told two other students that if there were no rules, he’d bring a gun to school and shoot everyone, Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office investigator Philip Pevehouse said in a news release Tuesday.
Investigators interviewed the student on Monday, after school staff notified them of the incident, and within an hour, the student was arrested on suspicion of terroristic threatening, Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck told the about 100 people present at Thursday’s board meeting. The student is being held in the county juvenile detention facility, Hollenbeck said.
The sheriff said the investigation is ongoing, and investigators are interviewing witnesses, students and staff. He said he will speak with school staff and the community later about what happened and the proper response. He told the crowd the school officials responded appropriately, and he is impressed by that, but that there is room for improvement in their response to such situations.
When some parents asked why school officials waited until Monday to notify law enforcement of the alleged threat rather than doing it when it happened and avoiding risking having the situation escalate over the weekend, Lanman reminded the crowd the board was not taking questions, it was listening to comments.
Parent Danielle Woodard told the board that previous incidents swept under the rug hadn’t put the district’s children in danger, but despite the fact that this incident turned out to be an empty threat, she felt parents should have been notified.
“I feel betrayed by the administration, the cover-up, the lies, and I no longer trust you with my children,” Woodard said to hearty applause.
After the remaining people on the speaker list declined to comment, Lanman adjourned the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes.
After the meeting, Superintendent Teresa Ragsdale said the Sheriff’s Office will provide training to school staff as well as the community, and she’ll soon provide the steps the district plans to take to address the safety concerns.