Expanding Lines of Communication

Expanding Lines of Communication
Posted on 09/23/2019

Dear Jefferson County Parents:

I hope this message finds you well.  As we begin another school year, I want to take a moment and talk about a very important matter that affects your children.   Every day we serve around 9,000 students.  While their families vary widely, every one of them expect us to keep their children safe and to educate them so they can be successful in our community.   

When discussing child safety, one of the fears that many parents express to us is their concern over threats in our schools.   While the occurrence of violence in schools is rare, we are very vigilant about safeguarding our students and staff in every way possible.   This task has become far more difficult and time consuming in the age of social media.  The current reality is that a single young person can instantly start a firestorm (often unintentionally) by communicating something through social media that may or may not be accurate.   Because student/staff safety is our #1 job… we investigate EVERY single threat that is reported to us.   If someone writes a threatening message on a bathroom wall, we investigate; if someone says they heard a voice they don’t recognize saying not to come to school tomorrow, we investigate; if someone overhears another person saying “I think Joe is a shooter”, we investigate.   

We are blessed in Jefferson to have the most amazingly cooperative and competent law enforcement community I have ever had the privilege to work with.   When we receive a threat they put every resource they have into tracking it down to determine whether it is “credible” or “not credible”.   This happens whether it is 1pm or 1am.  As you might imagine, sometimes this is a quick process and sometimes longer.  From interviewing witnesses to pulling phone records to viewing video tape to going to students’ homes.   Regardless of how long it takes, law enforcement works until they have enough information to make a determination of whether a threat is “credible” or “not credible”.   They then contact us with their determination.  It is very important for you to know….. We will NOT open school if law enforcement says the threat is deemed credible.  That is an iron clad guarantee.   The School Board and staff of Jefferson County Schools have absolute trust in our exceptional law enforcement community.  We respect their ability to do their job and do it well.

Our job is to cooperate fully with law enforcement and then inform you as parents once we have received a “credible” or “not credible” notice.   The difficulty comes in as we work to give parents information as quickly as we can verify it.  As people’s demands for instant notice and constant updates increases, it becomes more difficult and time consuming to meet those expectations.    We have been in a position of either telling the community that a threat has been received but we have no information at this time (resulting in a deluge of frightened parents demanding answers) or not telling the community until we have received information from law enforcement that it is safe to hold school (resulting in a deluge of angry parents demanding to know why we didn’t tell them as soon as we received the threat).    

The time that we spend meeting the incessant social media/communication demands of 10,000+ parents, is time that we don’t spend serving your children.   We are working hard to find ways to keep parents informed while giving our staff and law enforcement the time and space to do their most important job which is keeping kids safe.  In that spirit, we have worked with law enforcement to set up the following communication protocol which will go into effect this school year.   

A report of a safety threat that is not resolved during the school day will result in the following notices

 “Jefferson County Schools has received a safety threat at X school.  We have notified law enforcement and they are investigating.  We will post an update once they determine whether the threat is credible. In support of the school and law enforcement staff focusing on their work, we will not be issuing any additional information prior to the notice of “credible” or “not credible”. Thank you for your cooperation.

If law enforcement determines the safety threat is not credible we will post the following notice:

“Law enforcement has deemed the safety threat “not credible”.  All activities at X school will be held.”

If law enforcement determines the threat is “credible” we will close school and notify you using the exact same tools we use for a snow call.  This will be repeated daily until law enforcement deems it safe to return.   A closure message would be followed by any additional safety information we receive from law enforcement.   

“Law enforcement has deemed the safety threat at X school credible.   X school will be closed on X date.  All activities on X campus are cancelled until further notice.”

Jefferson County Schools needs and wants your involvement, we are simply asking for it in the most productive way.   We are working to give you more information in the hopes that it reduces more anxiety than it produces.   

If you receive a report or know something you think can help us keep children safe we have a clearly marked “Anonymous Report” button right on the front page of our website.   The exact same reporting button is on our app (which we recommend downloading for alerts).   You can also call us at any JCS location or simply walk into any JCS location to report.  We appreciate any and all cooperation in keeping your children safe.      

As always, our job is to serve your family.  We will not always do that to everyone’s satisfaction.  When we disappoint, I hope you tell us and make suggestions so we can work to improve together.  We are proud of our safety record, proud of our law enforcement and proud to serve the citizens of Jefferson County.  We thank you for your support in continuing to do so.    

Sincerely,

Bondy Shay Gibson, Ed.D.
Superintendent
Jefferson County Schools, W.Va.

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