The authors of a letter to Hays USD 489 school board members and Superintendent John Thissen hope their correspondence creates dialog and action on the district’s active shooter preparedness and communication to parents.
On Feb. 12, the Hays Police Department notified Hays High School administrators a student allegedly made a threat against the school. After interviewing the student that day with the family’s cooperation, the student was taken into protective custody.
The public was notified five days later by the Ellis County Attorney’s Office of the threat and that the student was in custody. That notice was issued only after media inquiries were made to HPD, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees said.
After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida, rumors about a continued threat and a gun brought to HHS started circulating in the community, but investigation by HPD showed no evidence of truth to any of them.
Many parents took to social media to express frustration at the delayed communication.
Several of those parents got together to write a letter to the school board and Thissen, asking questions about the district’s plans and policies on an active shooter situation. A Facebook group to gain signatures in support of the letter was created Feb. 14, and within 24 hours, had more than 700 members, group administrator Robin Hale said.
As of Sunday evening, it had 794.
“Due to the most recent events we must ask USD 489 — are there policies and procedures in place and has the staff been adequately trained? And if there are, where do we find these documents?” the letter says.
“What are the policies and procedures for active shooter drills, for communication with parents, teachers and the community, and for how to handle perceived threats? If these exist, we would like to be made aware of them. If they do not exist, when can we expect that work will begin on them?” it concludes.
Hale said she and the other parents understand such plans do not need to be made public for security reasons, but parents should be made aware of them and be allowed to view them.
The purpose of the letter is “to open up a dialogue with the school board and school district, to make sure that we have a comprehensive plan in place that includes not only active shooter drills, but also physical safety and communication protocols,” she said.
The letter was written as a group effort, she said, and was revised as parents gave feedback and information they had learned from their children about whether or not their schools had conducted active shooter drills.
The letter was sent late last week to all seven board members and the superintendent. As of Sunday afternoon, only board member Mike Walker had responded and given a positive response, Hale said.
Hale, along with Stacey Zamecnik and Rhonda Keener, were at Moka’s, 1230 E. 27th, on Sunday afternoon to gather signatures in support of the letter, but only a handful of people came in. Signatures also have been taken at Otter Juice Co., 2306 Vine, and Arnett Chiropractic Care, 2705 Vine.
The women estimated Sunday afternoon they had approximately two dozen signatures.
They plan on attending Monday’s meeting of the USD 489 school board. As of Friday afternoon, the agenda did not include at item for discussion of the issue; however, an audience participation item for comments from the public is always early on the board’s agenda. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Toepfer Board Room of the Rockwell Administration Center, 323 W. 12th.
“What I’d like to see it lead to is either some formation of a committee or including more community members on the site councils or whoever makes these kinds of plans,” Hale said.
“I think it would be great if we could have collaboration not just with (USD) 489, but with law enforcement so these drills can be ran as a tool for law enforcement as well as for the students and teachers,” Zamecnik said.
The women also spoke of the possibility of including the local private Catholic schools in the conversation.
“We want to keep everybody safe, the students, the administration, everyone that works at the school, all the staff and teachers,” Zamecnik said. “No one should have to report to school or work and feel unsafe.”