Wow. If you wanted drama, you should have been at Office Hours With(out) Dr Conley this morning at Hugo Coffee. Each Friday, through the end of May, school district personnel are at Hugo Coffee to engage in conversation and answer questions. Today, School District Communications Specialist Molly Miller did an admirable job in the absence of School Board Superintendent Dr. Ember Conley. Approximately 20 to 25 people attended the meeting, which was focused on this week’s “threat” to Park City schools. In addition, Park City Police Chief, Wade Carpenter, another police officer, and Summit County Chief Deputy, Frank Smith, attended to answer questions.
I don’t know if school district Communications Specialist Molly Miller drinks alcohol, but if she does Dr Conley owes her a nice bottle of wine (or a summer of snow cones if she does not) for her handling of the situation. There were more than a few passionate people at the meeting.
Unfortunately, I had to leave an hour and a half into the meeting. So, I didn’t capture the conclusion. However, the following should give you a good flavor for how it went down. I tried to paraphrase what each person said during the meeting. I also have audio of the meeting which I will post a little bit later.
Molly Miller (School District): We understand that people are angry. Unfortunately Dr Conley could not be here due to a pre-existing commitment. Going forward, the district is changing procedures on how to communicate so that the next time the district can do better.
Citizen: When were you informed that there was a threat?
Chief Carpenter: I’ll answer that. In October we received a threat specific to this. The school resource office let us know there were problems. There was a plan in place to deal with the individual who did this. It is the chief’s understanding that the individual had been out of school since that time. Chief Carpenter says he has been researching active shooter cases. He says research suggests that when an individual is segregated from peers for long periods of time, there is an increased chance that they are more likely to engage in violent outbursts such an active shooter situations. Similar to situations where the student had not been on campus for 7 months. Carpenter said that he would rather know the location of the individual that made the threats. This would give law enforcement the ability to search them and keep an eye on them in a controlled environment versus having them sit at home thinking about what their intent to do potential harm.
Citizen: Kids knew kid and kids knew of the date. That’s how it became an issue.
Citizen: Email from Ember triggered whole thing.
Citizen: My concern is that the police knew there was a threat for the May 3rd, who was not in district for extended period of time. Why at the time when this threat was made weren’t parents notified?
Chief Carpenter: That’s not my issue. I don’t have authority to speak on behalf of the district. I wasn’t aware there was an email going out at 10PM. I was not aware that the child was coming back that day.
Citizen: Why weren’t parents notified?
Chief Carpenter: I’ve answered that.
Molly: In October the threat was neutralized. The safety plan worked. The communication plan did not work (there wasn’t one).
Citizen: Why wasn’t there one?
Molly: I have been in office 2 months. I am working on a checklist on how to communicate with people effectively. I have a child and I understand.
Citizen: The district needs to be more professional. This was a big screw up. It was horrible.
Citizen: Could the police department have notified the Park Record.
Chief Carpenter: We don’t have authority. You have to understand how the process works. Had I knew the email was going out… we would have had a different email.
Citizen: What I have learned in my communications job is that when you put out something vague, people will fill in the blanks. The information should have been 100%. There should have been a dialogue before the May 3rd. I understand there is a child involved but we need this information and it should always be timely and it shouldn’t be vague. The police should look over these emails. They should be sent out a few days before. It’s also unfair to the kid [who made these threats].
Molly: I received the email that was supposed to go out to the public at 6PM. A lawyer vetoed a majority of information that was supposed to go out in email. I should have pushed harder to include most information. The timing of the email that went out was horrible.
Citizen: Who was involved in crafting the email.?
Molly: The board, the administration, and the lawyer reviewed the original email. I’m not sure who besides the lawyer reviewed the final email.
Citizen: I’m wondering if the board members were involved in the email. Their poor response to this issue concerns me.
Citizen: Why isn’t Ember here. This was the second time she hasn’t been here after a major issue.. We need our leader here.
Molly: Ember will be here a week from today.
Citizen: I would like to say that life is not perfect. I feel confident that the plan for security was good. So, while the communication was not optimal, I felt there was a plan in place and the schools were safe. I’m glad Molly is here. It is a learning experience for all of us.
Citizen: The crux of the problem is that we don’t trust the district, the school board, or Ember. When that happens, issues like this blow up.
Molly: We need to establish trust. What would help the school district get to that.
Citizen: When I first met Ember she was incredible. She responded to questions. Then after 6 months she stopped responding. She does that with the community, now. She gives different stories to different people. She has now built a wall between her and the community. Until this changes, I have no confidence in her.
Citizen: This is the second crisis (other is Ecker Hill incident involving Mr Spencer). The technology director was not there to answer why Mr Spencer’s alleged actions were not caught. That was the 3rd incident in a short period of time. We are not happy with communication and there have been walls built. We have issues in the district and it seems like the district puts a bandaid on and hopes we just forget. The district just hasn’t delivered.
Molly: Let’s talk about the Mr. Spencer thing. Gaggle is software we have implemented and that flags email and a human reads it when potentially dangerous information is found.
Citizen: Who made the decision to let the student who made threats back in to our schools?
Molly: I don’t know.
Citizen: I can answer that. I got a call from my daughter on April 14th. She told me that the student would be back at school. I met with various people at the district about this and shared my daughters concerns about this student coming back. They gave me the safety pan. I went home and gave it some thought. I still didn’t feel comfortable. So, on the 15th I went to the Park City Police. I brought evidence that included a Tumblr account. I asked my daughter about this tumblr account. So, I looked at it and its content was concerning. It was scary stuff. I then went to the high school and felt this was a legit concern to our community. Parents should be aware. Teachers should be aware. However they were making special exceptions that this girl is coming back to the learning center because they can control her there. I asked, does the Board Know? They said no. I asked then who does? The answer was the Administration. However, Ember never was in these meetings. Tom VanGorder said that they would send something out early to all teachers about it. Ember lied. It is B.S. that Ember said parents got concerned the day of. I have the days in April documented that the district was supposed to send things out that month but they didn’t. Parents were concerned weeks before.
Citizen: Ember needs to step down.
Molly: Let’s talk about fixing it.
Citizen: We need to build trust. If the school board wants to stay in place, they need to fire Ember.
Citizen: If we don’t want more fallout. Everyone of the people at last night’s school board candidate forum said that this was a disaster. We need an apology from Ember. She needs to show up. Ember is not an effective leader. She needs to admit that. She needs to step down. If she doesn’t, it will come out in the school board election. People will be elected that will fire Ember.
Citizen: What are the students thinking about this?
Student Who is at Meeting: I didn’t know about it until I got to school. I got to the learning center and no one knew. We were scared once we found out. Teachers didn’t talk about it or address it. They acknowledged the threat but kept it business as usual.
Citizen: Teacher’s always do what teachers are supposed to do. That is why they are so important.
Citizen: If there were a real threat, school wouldn’t be open. There were a huge population of parents who didn’t even know about this… I made the decision to keep my kids in school to show them I’m not nervous. The principal at Jeremy had a lockdown drill planned for that day and cancelled it. He handled it perfectly.
Citizen: Why is this school district having a problem? These issues are a common thing. Every other school district handles it. Why not us?
Molly: Ember is smart. She is good. If there would have been a problem, school would have been closed.
Citizen: I trust Molly and I trust Chief Carpenter, but I don’t trust Ember.
Citizen: We have one of the best districts in the nation. We have a lot of good things. Every single piece of good news has been buried in bad news for years. Now that Molly is here, hopefully that changes.
Citizen: It’s because our district handles things so poorly.
Citizen: Why did the police come to the Kearns Campus if there was no threat?
Chief Carpenter: We had officers there for the parents.
Citizen: So, you were not planning on having officers there?
Chief Carpenter: No, we were going to have a few officers there. At 6PM, we decided to have extra officers there to answer questions of parents after social media spun up. I wasn’t worried about this until individuals started calling me. I contacted people in the department and ensured that we had it handled, which we did. However, I wanted to make sure parents could ask questions of our officers (to ensure the parents were comfortable).
Citizen: This student could have walked into any school at anytime. Why didn’t Ember want to tell teachers about this ahead of time? Why did Ember make that decision not to tell her staff?
Molly: I can’t speak to that but there will be a new process.
Citizen: I’m hearing there are two intertwined issues. Every crisis situation will be different. You may not make the right decision. However, you need to acknowledge that you made a bad decision and tell us how you are going to fix it.
Citizen: The Tumblr account showed she had an obsession with Columbine. I understand that May 3rd was probably the safest day to be in school, but I had the information but most parents did not. I feel Ember lied to me.The district told me that the information was going to be distributed but it never was.
Citizen: Someone had to make the decision that this person should come back. What type of mental health screening was being done? Hopefully they had done their due diligence.
Citizen: What is being done for this person now? It sounds like she has issues. Is she getting the support they need.
Citizen: Is there special treatment for this individual?
Molly: Obviously we can’t respond with specifics.
Citizen: I think the fact that people are spreading this child’s name is horrible. We need to be better than this. We need to be careful.
Citizen: For three weeks, I kept my mouth shut and hoped that the district would do something. But they didn’t. Now unfortunately the name has been released because of the way this was handled by the district. It didn’t have to be this way.
Citizen: How many people know how many psychologist do we have in district? Two. We have no social workers in school.
Citizen: I want to know what the security plan is going forward? If I had a child at school from now until June 3rd, I may be concerned.
Chief Carpenter: When the child who made the threats is at the school, the student will have to be with their parent and the student has to be searched before they come on premise by the police.
Citizen: I trust you Chief Carpenter but I don’t trust the district the same way. We need to get there with the school district.
Chief Carpenter: During Sundance we had 3 bomb threats. We have active threats all the time. We handled it. We know how to handle these type of issues to the best of our ability.
Note: The discussion continued but I had to leave at 10 AM (an hour and a half into the one hour meeting)
So, that was the part of the meeting I could attend due to my day job.
Public comment is not always pretty… but it is an accurate assessment of how people feel. It was a doozy of a meeting. As someone who attends a lot of these things…this would be a 9 out of 10 on the scale of an engaging public meetings. Unfortunately the most engaging meetings are when some entity has screwed up. This would be one of those.