Each Friday, Park City School Superintendent Ember Conley meets with the public to discuss issues and answer questions. This week’s discussion focused on the school threat from May 3rd.
I’ve tried to capture questions from the public and responses from district personnel below. Please forgive spelling mistakes and grammar issues as I tried to capture this in real time.
If you have questions, please feel free to post them in the comments.
Citizen:How would you have handled the security situation differently? How will you handle it differently?
- Internally communicate
- Pulling in people at the right time
- Publicly apologize for content of email but given the amount of public outcry it was the right time
- We have 1000 people who have opted out of emails… how can we get them back on system. How can we work with Summit COunty to use the systems they have
- in the safety situations… this one was not situation that would put our students at risk
- Emergency plan…
- Also need to help community understand mental illness… Bob at high school and Emily at TMJH… the number of suicide referrals is huge. Its not a school issue but a community issue. We need to look at our crisis plan. Mental health awareness.
Citizen: What decisions have been made for what the thresholds have been made on who and what to communicate? How do you decide when to share with the community?
- Had critical conversations internally with our team
- Have to be careful about what we share.
- We are ot responsible for only the people within our organization but the entire organization
Wade Carpenter (Park City Police Chief):
- We continually evaluate threats and what we feel is pertinent and germane for public safety. If I thought is was a legitimate threat we would have closed the schools down. This situation was interesting because the situation was dealt with in October. However, the individual was isolated. The longer they sit, the larger chance the person will act out. So, we need to look at it on a case by case basis and decide how to handle it. So, when we look at these situations, we need to look at how we get them assimilated. When they are coming back to the school we have the ability to set the rules (i.e., search them and have someone present with them). I would rather know where the individual is versus not know where they are. I honestly feel like we in Park City are better than how we acted in this situation. This is school, police, and parents… we all could have acted better. A learning piece is that if something like this is going out, we have to have communication between school and police department before the email goes out. The secondary piece is the communication piece that we have to fix.
Citizen: I understand this may have been a learning experience. However, what we want to know is if someone will be held accountable for these types of problems. If something like this happens again, will someone be held accountable?
Dr Conley: I will be held accountable.
Citizen: We are still left wondering if our kids are safe. Why wasn’t the security issue communicated on October?
- In October the child wasn’t a student… We worked through police department
- It didn’t effect our school system because the situation was handled.
Citizen: Some information could have been shared. Couldn’t you have told us about threat or the plan?
Dr Conley: We have a safety plan and safety team that dictates our process.
Citizen: Is that something that is publicly available?
- Wade: No, we can’t share that because it is private information. We can’t share it for security reasons.
Citizen: Isn’t there parts of the plan like communications that could be published?
Molly Miller (School District): Yes. There is a crisis checklist. Email is down currently in the district. We will get that on the website. We will publish that going forward.
Julie Booth (County Communications): I would recommend that you alert the parents with a placeholder email that says “we are coming out with an email later” and that gives you time to craft the email you want.
Dr Conley: Thank you for that. That is a good idea. What people have to understand is that we have competent people in our district. We have good people handling these types of issues,
Wade Carpenter: [To people in attendance] Would you prefer multiple sources of information like using the district phone system (in addition to facebook, email, etc.) or would you prefer a single method? It’s hard to put out a mass email and have social media take over.
Dr Conley: The district is putting together certain places where you can get information.
Molly: information will be emailed, posted to social media, text messages, robo call. If there is any other form of communication, let me know. We will try to put specifics in when we can.
Citizen: Bob (O’Connor Principal), in hindsight, did you have an awareness of more concern. Did you get the sense that this was going to rev up a little more than usual?
Bob: Perhaps. I wish the parents would have come to me versus spreading it out throughout the community. The parents I talked with a few weeks before I felt everything was OK.
Citizen: That is why I ask… if something was brewing ahead of time could the timing have been different.
Bob: I’ll take responsibility for that. The Assistant Principal and I talked about creating a communication plan but decided not to do anything because I didn’t want to fuel the fire.
Wade: I was talking with Amanda Dixon from KSL. She said, every 13 days, because of media continuing talking about active shooters, it leads to another one. She says that is what the studies say. When these things spin up, attention is given to it… so it is important that we moderate ourselves to not contribute to the issue and make things worse.
Citizen: Do you feel faster communication would have helped and reduced the social media impacts?
Wade Carpenter: It depends on what the communication levels you want.
Citizen: Sometimes for fun we read the Park Record. There are so many police reports of dumb stuff. Maybe we need to see how many dumb things happen in schools. Maybe that will lead us to learn what we really need to react to. If we get blindsided at 10PM at night, hearing vague emails, that’s when we go wonky. So, just over expose us.
Wade Carpenter: That’s similar to when we put signs up in the community. You get so inundated with signs… so we put signs in so conspicuous of an area that people have to notice.
Citizen: We as citizens need to have the opportunity to see it all and then at least we know everything. If it’s always transparent it is good. We need the info. Barrage us with information.
Wade: I disagree to that. It comes back to the media threat. I think it puts ideas in there heads of other things that happen. The data says that. Kids start thinking about these thing.
Citizen: I agree email may not be right… how about putting on the website.
Dr Conley: Our job is to educate and not blog about what is happening.
Dr Conley: We have a family that is dealing with a child that is dealing with mental illness. They are now being ostracized. I am done. I apologized for the email but we are done. Our community needs to help our kids. You want to put your energy and resources toward something. Put it toward our kids. Give us mental health resources.
Petra Butler (running for school board): If we want to help our kids, we need mental health resources. We have 2 psychologists. We need to come together to talk about these issues. Many of these issues are because our kids need help. We need to get kids the resources they need. We need to stop these kids from failing.
Citizen: What can we do as a district to help that?
Dr Conley: We are adding resources. Nurses, counselors, etc. But we need specific counselors who can deal with it from the early years. There is always the chance to do truth in taxation to get a counselor in every school.
Citizen: Could PC Ed fund it?
Dr Conley: We had a group of parents come together to get gifted specialist in very school.
Andrew Kaplan (running for school board): I’ll speak for PC ED foundation. The majority of our funds are from donations, so we could probably do that.
Citizen: When you talk in turn of tax levy…it would be there every year. If this was PC Ed funded, I would want to make sure that the funding is there every year.
Citizen: I think there has been too much publicity on the subject. When I was in high school, I got the crap beat out of me. The kid who did it was proud of it. It was on the front page of the paper. It has an ill effect on the kids. I’ll give you an example… the dual immersion kids read the paper in french about the attacks in parents. They were freaked out. There was too much awareness. I try to tell my grand kids that there are crazies everywhere. I try to explain it that teachers, police and others are there to help. I think from a kid’s perspective there is too much information.
Wade Carpenter: I was running a drug unit and we fed the media gang info all the time. A kid was shot in the head and all he cared about was the publicity he was going to get from getting shot. So, we changed that and restricted information. There is a time and a place for media.
Treasure Mountain Junior High Representative: We have a safety plan in place and we are constantly working for safety. This year we had a situation where we needed law enforcement. In three minutes, police were there. Within 10 minutes, tri county law enforcement was there. It was a very random situation… which is usually how it goes. I can’t stand in front of you and say we are 100% full proof but we are doing our best.
Frank Smith (Sheriff’s Department): At 3AM we had SWAT team in place because when things get this spun up, you never know where something may happen. We have tactical plans in place for every school including Utah Valley State. We also policed Park City since the police were at the school.
Citizen: I feel secure in this town. Now is the time we need to come together and support each other.
Wade: Do students realize school resources officers that can help them?
Student: We get that but we aren’t sure who we should be contacting with issues. We understand that resources are available but not always sure who to contact.
Wade: Perhaps if we publicize the resource officer more it would help.
Citizen: What about children at Learning Center who may be worrying about the kid next to them?
Dr Conley: I wish I had a good answer for you but we have to take every student individually.
Citizen: It’s the teachers at the learning center that makes the difference. The firing of teachers there is very concerning.
Dr Conley: I can’t speak on specifics but I have met with all teachers at the Learning Center.
And that was it… Re-reading the notes, it was a disjointed meeting. There are still citizen concerns over what happened regarding security at the High School. The district seems to be sticking with the concept that they have learned from their mistakes but. However, much of the public is still sticking with the concept that they don’t trust the district.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how those two paths are reconciled.