OPS Parent Letter 2-24-2018
February 24, 2018
Dear Owasso Public Schools’ Parents,
We live in an era of complex information about school safety. The last few weeks have highlighted that complexity and the focus has led to worrisome thoughts and conversations by students, parents, and communities.
One of my roles in the district is to serve as team leader for our elementary and secondary schools. This letter is written to you based on a simple thought: “What would I want to know if I was a mom of an Owasso Public School student?” With that heartbeat, I’m sharing what we do in our schools when we receive information that threatens the safety of our students. I am also sharing items we can all do to make our schools safer. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter.
Nothing is more important than the safety of our children in Owasso Public Schools. Yes, we are champions of learning in Owasso, but when a safe environment does not exist then learning cannot occur. This is not just physical safety, but is mental and emotional safety as well.
Owasso Public Schools partners with the Owasso Police Department to provide three School Resource Officers (SROs). This partnership with the Owasso Police Department is irreplaceable.
In Owasso Public Schools, we serve children from PreK age to the age of graduating seniors. Therefore, our response is not exactly the same for every age child or for every comment made. If a 5 year old says “I hate you” or “I hope I never see you again” it is treated much differently than a student who is 16 who posts a threat of school violence on social media.
Each of our schools have, at minimum, two administrators - a principal and an assistant principal. These leaders are experienced in investigating concerns of safety and threats of harm to our students. Each administrator is trained in school safety protocols. Many of our administrators and staff members have their own children sitting in desks beside your children.
One of the greatest challenges for administrators is sifting through quickly the incredible volume of information related to a potential threat. As people are concerned, they sometimes inadvertently post misinformation on-line through Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. and social media actually makes the job of the school administrators much more challenging.
Our Board of Education and Dr. Ogilvie, our Superintendent, have worked in a mighty way through the last decades to provide safe school buildings for our students. Students are not located in prefabricated buildings, but instead are in buildings of quality construction. I wish to the deepest part of my fiber that I could tell you that every one of our schools provides a wall of safety and no harm could ever come to your children at school. We cannot make that claim about our homes, our places of worship, or our schools. However, there is much we CAN do.
You, as parents, are part of the most effective tools we have for helping your children be safe at school. Those tools include strong two-way communication; reporting any threat of harm toward students to the school, the police, or both; and using reasonable protocols together to create an environment that reassures our students that they are safe to learn.
Here are behaviors and roles we can each utilize to create the safest possible schools.
Administrators and School Staff:
- Always listen to students, parents and others when a threat is reported. No threat is ignored.
- Always thoroughly investigate each threat even when the student says “I was joking” or “They knew I was kidding around” or “I was just trying to be funny.”
- Communicate with the Owasso Police Department in an ongoing manner throughout any threat of harm to students.
- Investigate each element of the threat to obtain the truth. This can include reviewing social media postings, talking to students, talking to staff, talking to parents, etc.
- Communicate with parents as much information as is reasonable, respecting that our district employees will not discuss one parent’s child with another parent.
- The parent of the student making the inappropriate or threatening remark will usually be contacted first as their child will be removed from the school or separated from the student body while the investigation is being conducted.
- During the investigation, the priority is safety. Parents may not be contacted before their children visit with administrators if time is of the essence. Safety, again, is the first priority. However, if your child is witness to a threat and talked to specifically about that threat, every effort will be made to contact you about that discussion even if it is the next day due to time constraints.
- Discipline students who make remarks or threats that substantially disrupt the school environment and lead to unsafe conditions for learning. This discipline can include removal from the traditional school setting.
- Honor students who have been a part of the effort to make our schools safe by telling their parents or their school leaders.
- Cooperate with the Owasso Police Department if threats result in the OPD taking further action.
- On a regular, on-going basis our administrators have been educating and will continue to educate students regarding inappropriate remarks, threatening comments, etc. and the seriousness of those remarks in a school setting.
Parents and Legal Guardians:
- Please remind your children that they have a right to a safe school and a marvelous education. Also remind them that they are exceptionally valuable, so telling an adult at school when they hear something is reporting and not tattling. Tattling is when you are trying to get someone in trouble. Reporting is when you are trying to make things better.
- Please listen to your children’s comments and monitor their social-media posts. If you are aware of something that could threaten the safety of your child or another child, please contact the school administrator or Owasso Police Department. OPS and OPD work hand-in-hand and will notify each other of the threat or safety concern.
- Please redirect your children if you see a pattern of negative gossip or disruptive comments that could carry over into school.
- Please praise your child when they are making wise choices about social media and are choosing not to participate in disruptive/negative/intimidating comments or social media posts.
- Please make every effort to not post information on social media or share it with others related to school safety unless you are positive it is fact. Misinformation shared by parents or citizens outside the school actually makes the school more unsafe as the administrators have to investigate that information as well as the information that is going on inside the school.
- If, after visiting with your child’s principal, you have ongoing concerns about what is discussed in this letter, please don’t hesitate to call me directly.
- Please review the items below with your students.
- Remember that it is your school. You deserve to be safe at school and your parents and school staff are working together to that end.
- What you say, as a student, is taken seriously by the adults in your life. If you hear that something is unsafe or another student is going to hurt someone: tell your parent or tell an adult at school.
- Students, just like adults, are held accountable when they say something that causes others to be afraid at school or unsafe at school. Serious consequences will be issued by Owasso Public Schools’ administrators for a student who substantially disrupts a safe learning environment for other children through threatening remarks or comments.
- What you put on social media is the same as saying it out loud to a school administrator or to your parents. Even when posts are taken down, others take screenshots of them and they can resurface later. That is called a “digital footprint.” You may think everyone in the chat room or everyone you are sharing the information with is your friend. However, when people become fearful that information may surface. Post wisely.
- If you see or hear anything that can make the school safer, tell the adult you trust most at school and have them share that with administrators or tell the administrator directly. Many incredible solutions for school safety come from the people who are school every day - the students.
As you can well imagine, we are collaborating as a team of principals and district leaders to determine the best way to communicate with parents during a time of heightened concern. We want to keep parents up to date, but sharing information before an investigation is complete is unwise and could be a source of fear that is unnecessary. We are also aware that what is too much information for one parent may be inadequate information for another. We seek to find the appropriate balance when communicating.
Our site principals send messages to you, from time to time, for various safety reasons. Examples include: “A fire alarm was accidently pulled today. The building was evacuated and all students are safely in class.” Another example: Our school was on a “Lockout” today as there was a police issue nearby. All students are safe in class.”
When a threat is being investigated, the challenge for a principal is that their primary focus is on the threat. Each principal will communicate in a way that meets the particular need. Examples may include: “Your child may discuss with you tonight that a concern was investigated at school today. There was no credible threat, but we are still making you aware.” Another example, might be: “A student made a remark today that was perceived as a threat. That was not the case, but we want to make you aware.” Yet another example, might be: “A student made a threatening remark today. We take those remarks seriously and the situation has been addressed.”
We believe that the events of the last week, in the volume the state experienced, require us to create a new normal for communication with you. We embrace that communication responsibility because you have trusted us with your children.
Thank you for reading this information and communicating with your students about it. The employees of Owasso Public Schools are here to provide the highest quality education for your children in the safest possible environment.
Amy Fichtner, Ed.D.