OPINION LETTER — Last Sunday night at about 8:45 p.m., we received a frightening message from Allen Leonard, principal of Starr’s Mill High School, which said there had been a threat “that a student is going to bring a gun to school on October 3.”
This began a series of considerations and events that ultimately led to us and many other parents electing to keep our children home on Monday, Oct. 3rd.
I, for one, was very thankful to have received this message because it gave us a chance to decide what was best for our child, something especially important in light of the unfortunate string of school shootings that have plagued our land for the past two decades or so.
One common characteristic of the shootings was that the shooter telegraphed their actions, sometimes even stating plainly that they were going to shoot their classmates.
The other commonality is that these threats were largely ignored, which tragically allowed the demented teen to follow through on their plans.
So, again, I was glad that we were not ignoring the threat and were given the chance to maximize the safety of our children. At least, that’s what I thought was the reasoning behind Principal Leonard’s message of Sunday night.
Many other parents made the same decision, especially given that we had no idea if the student who had made the threat had been caught. We were told there would be additional “law enforcement personnel at school”, but that wasn’t quite enough to assuage our concerns (especially given what happened at Uvalde, sad to say).
Then, Monday afternoon we received notice that our child had been marked “absent” for the day, even though we had followed the procedure to provide her with an excused absence.
That was followed by another letter from Principal Leonard, proclaiming that his children had attended school that day and that “Normal attendance procedures are in place,” which seemed to indicate that our child was marked with an unexcused absence intentionally and that missing school as a result of this particular threat wasn’t an option.
Let me state here that I have been very impressed with how Starr’s Mill and the Fayette County School System handled the Covid pandemic and strove to have the kids back in school as soon as possible. No school system is perfect and there are always unhappy parents for one reason or the other, but on that very big issue and others as well, they have done very well.
Which is why I am so puzzled about Principal Leonard’s position on this issue. Again, I thought he and the school were being smart to inform us of the threat — which was scrawled on a bathroom wall — and give us a chance at truly being as safe as possible, which the letter said was “[their] first concern.”
His Sunday message did not say that students were expected to attend classes as usual, though it also didn’t say it was OK to keep them home. But, frankly, without the authorities having identified the culprit, I feel it was prudent to keep our child home.
Furthermore, by Monday early afternoon, we and many others learned of the actual text of the threat: “Don’t come to school Oct 3. I’m going to bring a gun and will kill anybody I see. **** you [Principal] Leonard you bald bastard.”
The suspect therefore did not just threaten to bring a gun, but had in fact threatened to kill people and called out Principal Leonard, in what seems to me to be a “specific threat.”
The threat was even more ominous than we were originally given to believe, which is another reason why I think Principal Leonard should reconsider his decision to not allow an excused absence on Monday.
Some may argue that this was obviously a hoax, and I agree that it probably was. But that is not a chance we can take these days. When a student threatens to kill his fellow students, we must treat the threat as real and allow parents to keep their kids out of school until the threat is eliminated, preferably by catching the perpetrator.
And, extra care must be given to being more precise in the communications. A specific threat was made. There wasn’t just a threat to bring a gun. Parents weren’t told that “normal attendance policies” applied until after the school day on Monday afternoon.
We love living in Fayette County and one of the main reasons is the high quality of education and the lack of ideological insanity that we see going on in other school districts. I would just ask those in charge of our children to reconsider their actions and decisions in light of the facts that have come to light, and make the fair and proper decision to allow kids to stay home in the face of an explicit threat of deadly violence.
Thank you and may God bless all of those in charge of keeping our children and our citizens safe in this crazy world of ours.
Peachtree City, Ga.