Parents frustrated with response to shooting threats at two area schools

Parents frustrated with response to shooting threats at two area schools

March 2nd, 2016 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

The exterior of Signal Mountain Middle High School on is seen in this photograph taken Wednesday, July 30, 2008.

The exterior of Signal Mountain Middle High School...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

A message scrawled on the wall of the boys bathroom purports to be a threat against Ooltewah High School.

A message scrawled on the wall of the...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

A photo submitted by several sources purports to show a threat scrawled on the wall of a boys bathroom at Ooltewah High School.

A photo submitted by several sources purports to...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

More than 1,000 students — about 70 percent of the student body — were absent from Ooltewah High School on Tuesday after three shooting threats were found written on bathroom walls at the school days before.

Parents of students at the school said they were afraid to have their children attend Tuesday because of the threats, many voicing frustration over how school administrators handled the situation. Similar concerns were voiced by parents of students at Signal Mountain Middle High School, which also had a shooting threat last week.

The Hamilton County Department of Education released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying officials had spoken with Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis and no issues were reported at the school, noting many students were absent.

The statement said deputies with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigated the threats and found them not to be credible, but extra deputies were present at the school Tuesday along with additional administrators.

"Please know that Hamilton County Department of Education and the Ooltewah High School administration take all threats seriously, and we will continue to strive for all campuses in our system to be as safe as possible," the statement said. "We anticipate all students returning to regular classes tomorrow morning."

But parents contacted the Times Free Press on Monday and Tuesday, saying they were not confident the threat was being taken seriously, and complaining about the minimal updates they'd received from the school and sheriff's office about the threats and the investigation.

The sheriff's office said it could not comment on whether there was additional security at the school Tuesday, but teachers and students reported seeing two more officers along with the school resource officer.

Teachers at Ooltewah High said they were told by administrators to count students absent.

Last week, Signal Mountain Middle High School also had a shooting threat, according to Signal Mountain Police Chief Mike Williams.

On Monday, school administrators were notified at least one student was making threats to shoot people at that school, and by Tuesday, two boys and their parents were called in. The boys were expelled for the remainder of the semester and are facing charges in Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Williams said.

"We have no reason to think it was anything more than threatening," Williams said. "But we took it seriously."

Williams said the news circling about the boys bringing a gun to school is not true, adding that throughout the investigation police found no indication the boys had access to any guns.

Despite the boys being expelled from school, Williams said more officers were at the school last week, including himself, just to make sure everyone felt safe.

Signal Mountain Middle High School Principal Robin Copp said the incident was handled swiftly by the school administration and police.

Parents of students at Signal Mountain, though, have voiced upset over the handling of the incident because they were not notified of it until Friday when Copp sent an email.

Copp said she and school administrators were not aware last week how concerned parents were over the incident, adding there was no anxiety in the school last week over the threat.

"We honestly, until Friday morning, did not realize there was an issue," Copp said. "We did not know parents were that concerned about it."

Copp said she and her staff have returned every call and request for a meeting from parents. She said they are planning to hold two community meetings next week to give parents a chance to talk with the school's guidance counselors and Williams, the school resource officer and administrative staff about school safety.

"We take school safety so seriously," Copp said. "And I truly understand the anxiety over keeping kids at school safe."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.


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