North Clay Middle School's library was filled to capacity Thursday evening. Concerned citizens flocked to have their voices heard by the Clay Community Schools Board of School Trustees at their regular monthly meeting.
A number of parents attended to ask for the Board's help in rectifying a situation that they felt had not been given the attention it deserved. On Feb. 26, Pam Stoelting, a sixth grade teacher at Clay City Elementary, confiscated a "kill list" from one of her students. Under the heading 'To kill', the child had reportedly written the names of 20 of his schoolmates and three teachers. Stoelting reported the matter to Principal Russell.
Russell suspended the boy for three days, but allowed him to stay at school the rest of the day and ride the bus home. Law enforcement authorities were not contacted until the next afternoon, when Superintendent Bill Schad prompted Russell to call. Further, Russell neglected to notify any of the other students' parents of the matter, not even those whose children were on the list.
Most were left to hear about the incident by word of mouth. Some were not even aware of what had taken place until nearly two weeks later, when the event was featured on WTWO's Tuesday evening newscast.
When interviewed, Russell said he thought the list had only been a joke. His seeming resistance to take it seriously and his actions, or lack thereof, left members of the community dissatisfied, to say the least. The feelings of those who spoke at the School Board meeting ranged from anger to fear to just plain disappointment.
The child who created the kill list did not return to school immediately after his suspension. Yesterday was his first day back, as he had apparently been told that he could come back whenever he felt comfortable. Unfortunately, his presence made quite a few of his fellow students very uncomfortable.
Many parents are also ill at ease. Barbara Wilson told the Board that she was shocked at Russell's dismissal of the list as a joke.
"They also thought Columbine was a joke," she said. "This is not a joke."
She went on to say that she will not allow her daughter to attend Clay City Elementary until she feels it is safe, despite having been warned that the absences will be unexcused. She was also advised that her daughter may end up being held back a year if she misses too many days. Wilson claimed that she is willing to go to court if the Board does not do something about the problem.
Mindy Seymour, whose child was on the list, learned of the list four days after it had been found.When she called the school, she was denied a meeting with Russell due to his busy schedule. He did speak with her briefly on the phone, but did little to allay her anxiety.
She also heard that the boy had been caught with a bullet at school a few days before his kill list surfaced. Schad confirmed a 22-caliber bullet had indeed been taken from the child on the Monday prior.
His possession of a bullet led a few parents to wonder if that meant he might also have access to a gun. Jay Weber compared the event to a bomb threat. As he put it, "at least 2.6 percent of bomb threats are real", so they must be investigated. He agreed that the kill list may well have been a childish prank, but maintained that Russell still should have delved deeper.
The way the incident was handled has led Weber and others to question whether they can trust Russell with their children's lives each day. Travella Myers, Sandy Powers, Tina Weber and Dr. Forrest Buell also expressed discontent with Russell's performance throughout the ordeal. Besides protecting their own children, some of the parents also mentioned the boy's exploits as a clear cry for help, which he has yet to have answered.
Members of the School Board shared some of the patrons' sentiments. Although President Steven Grigsby said they "generally don't get into dialogue" with those who make statements at the meetings, he and a few other members commented, revealing their desires to make sure students attending Clay Community Schools have secure learning environments.
Recognizing the need to resolve the matter quickly, Schad stayed after the meeting to discuss the Corporation's next step with other members of the staff. It was determined that the boy would be intercepted when he got off the bus this morning. Schad; Russell; Assistant Superintendent Mike Mogan; Director of School Academic At Risk Programs Maryann Reed; and Director of Special Services Susan Price were to meet with the child and his parents this morning and figure out a solution.
Schad explained that there is yet another factor to be considered. The child who made the list is a special needs student. Therefore, Schad and the Board do not have the power to immediately place him in another school without going through the proper avenues. He said he may be able to place the boy on emergency homebound for the time being.
"You can't take these kinds of situations lightly," he acknowledged.
On the other hand, he stated, "We're not on a witch hunt here. We're trying to do what's best for everyone in the situation."
In order to do that, Schad plans to schedule a community meeting sometime next week so parents can speak to him face to face about the matter. He added that he wants to limit the discussion at that time to only this particular incident. He will, however, set aside time after the meeting to listen to any other concerns parents have on an individual basis.
He has been told that a petition to remove Russell as principal of Clay City Elementary exists, but only responded to the news by saying that is a personnel matter and will remain confidential.
Schad is confident that the situation will be resolved. In the meantime, he averred, "I think for the most part, the school's still a safe school."