Officials address recent school events

Parents, teachers and students concerned about a recent rash of school lockdowns and threats of violence at Farragut High School packed into the school’s library to hear school officials,’ members of Knox County Sheriff’s Office’s and 5th District Board of Education representative Karen Carson’s take on the events Thursday, March 31.

Carson organized the meeting to discuss recent threats at FHS, the Knox County Schools Sys-tem’s response and the community’s role to support a resolution to these concerns. She emphasized parents’ role in talking to students and gathering information about these kinds of incidents.

KCS Superintendent James P. McIntyre Jr; Knox County Com-missioner John Schoonmaker, 5th District Knox County Commission; Knox County Com-mission Vice Chairman Bob Thomas; Capt. Rob Lawson and Chief Deputy Lee Tramel, Knox County Sheriff’s Office; Doug Harris, Knox County BOE chair, and Gus Paidousis, KCS security chief were in attendance.

The meeting came on the same day KCSO announced every individual involved in a bomb threat at Hardin Valley and Farragut schools had been identified or charged. The threats in question were a series of messages in the bathrooms of both schools. FHS responded to the most recent incident by evacuating students to its football stadium.

“Everybody involved in the treats has been charged,” Trammel said. “There may be other charges coming, but I’m not going to get into the rest of the investigation. Yes, your kids are safe here. That threat’s been ended.”

Carson said, “I can tell you that although they’re not going to give you details about what went on and the responses, I can tell you that as a Board member I got a little more information and I was confident each time we were moving in the right direction as fast as we could to identify who was doing this and to remove it from our school.”

However, Carson said the threats were general, not targeting specific groups, individuals or areas within either school.

She said officials needed to strike a balance. While parents should have some knowledge of what’s going on, according to her, giving out too much information could lead to copycat threats. She mentioned an anonymous hotline that students could use to report crimes. She urged parents to talk to their children and monitor their social media conversations as a way of gaining information about future threats.

Paidousis said the school hasn’t given out information about particular strategies.

“We don’t want to push out information that helps create a blueprint for threats,” Paidousis said. While he acknowledged the importance of giving out information, he also said strategies vary and change.

“The only thing worse than no information is pushing out information that ultimately is inaccurate,” he said.

Anyone can submit a crime tip anonymously to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office by calling 865-215-2243 or texting Crimes 274637 with “Knox” as the message’s first word.

Questions and comments varied. They included frustration over the lack of information given to parents and students, gratitude for the school’s response, a desire to understand and investigate the motivations of the students involved and a passionate plea from for parents to raise children well and prevent them from becoming bullies.

Jeff Cornett, whose daughter attends FHS, said parents and students could have helped more if photographs of the original messages had been made public. Cornett said that sharing those photographs could have helped students or parents identify the perpetrator by handwriting.

Following the meeting, Cor-nett said he still was frustrated with the official response.

“All we really heard was ‘We have things under control and don’t need your help. Don’t call’” he said.

Cornett’s wife, Darla, also attended the meeting.

“I felt like it was a good dialogue,” she said with regard to the meeting. She disagreed with Carson’s statement that random searches, such as the one after the first threat, could act as deterrents.

“It’s not a deterrent, because events continued to happen three times after the random search occurred,” she said.

On separate, previous occasions, the messages led to searches, an early dismissal of classes and a brief lockdown lasting a little over an hour. The school evacuated students from the building to the football stadium on Tuesday, March 29. After the lockout, the students returned to class.

A similar disturbance occur-red at Hardin Valley Academy involving a message that appeared to be bomb threat on a girls’ bathroom stall. The perceived threat led the school to shut down for a day.