The Colchester School Board adopted a revised threat policy last Tuesday, less than a week after a student’s “concerning statement” prompted a lockdown at the high school.
The change was unrelated to the recent threat, superintendent Amy Minor said, clarifying “national events” spurred the edits, which clarify student discipline protocol following threats and acts of violence. The board first read the policy November 6.
“After working with several of the principals and just being really aware of what’s happening across the country, I believe this policy is currently out of date,” Minor said of the 2003 document. “It leaves us open to not being very clear around student discipline in some areas.”
The revised policy includes responses against verbal threats and students who aid “primary offenders” that make threats or cause disruptions as outlined in the policy. Per state statute, both the old and new versions allow the board to stray from the one-calendar-year expulsion rule for verbal threats and judge incidents on a case-by-case basis.
“The older version of the policy really focused around devices,” Minor said, adding it was developed at time when bomb threats circulated around Chittenden County. Its weakness, she said, was lack of clearly defined protocol and procedure around verbal threats.
The revised policy includes language specific to students who make “statements which may indicate an intent to harm students and/or staff.” Types of threats were better defined and now include intent or a plan to harm students or staff, preparing for an attack on students or staff and plans or intent to bring weapons to school.
The revised policy also expanded its section on student accomplices and makes a distinction for their consequence: The board can modify discipline if the accomplice comes forward in an attempt to stop the threat or disruption, Minor said.
The benefits of this revision are twofold, she said: It provides the board some leeway in its discipline, as well as encourages students to come forward with information they may have.
“It’s an important distinction in our policy to hold students accountable when they may have knowledge [of a threat],” Minor said. “That level of accountability in this day and age is important to really outline for our students.”
In the first policy reading on November 6, board member Curt Taylor inquired about differentiating “harmless threats” or statements made in jest such as, “I’m going to get you.” Minor replied it’s a matter of establishing intent.
She cited the challenge of deciphering whether a threat is real or not, adding she’d like to insulate her building-level administrators from making the judgment calls on student intent. She said with national threats and violence against schools in recent times, the district will take any threatening statements seriously.
“Many times when students are upset, they may say things that maybe they don’t mean,” Minor said. “But I wouldn’t want an administrator to make that gamble and then be wrong.”
The revised policy is effective immediately and available on the school’s website, according to Minor. Parents will also receive information on the change in the district newsletter.