The Hays USD 489 Board of Education decided Monday night to table approving revisions to the administrative handbook until its next meeting to consider adding language to reflect policy on notifying the public of threats of violence against the schools.
The revisions reflected changes in language that was outdated or that was needed due to changes from negotiations, Assistant Superintendent Shanna Dinkel said. The revisions were introduced at the Feb. 26 board meeting and were on Monday’s agenda for approval.
Board member Greg Schwartz wondered if the changes should be postponed to add policy on contacting the public in a situation similar to an incident in February, when a student was questioned and then taken into protective custody after police received information he made a verbal threat of violence against Hays High School.
While the incident was handled quickly by the Hays Police Department, no public notification of the threat was given until five days later. The investigation and a Florida school shooting that week raised rumors and concerns in the community, with a group of parents addressing those concerns in a letter to the board and Superintendent John Thissen.
At the next school board meeting, Thissen and BOE President Lance Bickle admitted a simple notification early in the week explaining the situation likely would have prevented the rumors, and both offered apologies.
Schwartz said the public needs to know the district has learned from the incident.
“If you’re here,” he said to Thissen, “we’re probably all right. But what happens if you leave? Where’s the policy? The only way you’re going to ensure things happen in the future is to have a policy that says here’s how we’re going to handle this in the future.”
Thissen said there are things being done, including a meeting today with school officials and local emergency responders, and the crisis planning committee will meet later this month.
“I think what’s in place is solid,” Thissen said. “We are working to end up putting more planning and refining how we end up moving on any of these matters. I’m very comfortable with this being approved as it is at this time.”
Board member Mike Walker noted the handbook does have a public notification policy, although it does not specify notification of a threat. It does address notifying local media and using the district’s emergency notification system in case of lockdown or evacuation of buildings.
Schwartz suggested that would be a good place to include a policy on notification of threat.
After approving a motion by board member Paul Adams to change a reference of a nurse as “she,” the board voted to table further discussion on the notification policy until it’s March 26 meeting by a vote of six to one, with Adams voting against it.