Citing public concerns about school safety after recent incidents, Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson will host a conversation with parents and other community members in the Southeast Bulloch school zones Tuesday evening.
Brooklet Elementary, Nevils Elementary, Stilson Elementary, Southeast Bulloch Middle and Southeast Bulloch High parents are invited to the 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. forum in the Southeast Bulloch High School cafeteria.
“From what everybody is seeing – from law enforcement to the media to our own internal perspective – there seems to be a couple of things going on: one, more activity in terms of behaviors we’re seeing, and they’re leading to arrests,” Wilson said Friday morning. “But more so, I think what’s more prevalent here is the overwhelming amount of misinformation – whether it’s through social media or other things – that’s making its way back into the school and creating problems in the school.”
The only way he knows how to address the concerns, he said, is to go and talk to people directly and “let them know … that we’re concerned too and we’re doing what we can but that I’d also be willing to listen.”
So Wilson and perhaps other officials will make opening statements and then listen to questions and concerns from parents or community members. Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Stephen Hoyle will also be there, Wilson said, and added that he hopes the other Southeast area principals will be as well.
“Because of the concerns, the amount of activity seeming to come out of that community, I figured I’d start there,” he said.
As previously reported, Bulloch County sheriff’s officers questioned a 16-year-old girl Friday, March 2, and she was later charged with making terroristic threats and disrupting a public school. This was after the school resource officer assigned to Southeast Bulloch High received a report of a girl making threats against other students during school hours, Sheriff Noel Brown said in a public statement.
A school system statement at the time noted that no gun was involved in this incident. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Todd Hutchens said that the girl had threatened to “kill someone” but that she had not stated a method and that no one had provided the name of any specific person to whom the threat was directed.
In a separate incident, a 13-year-old Southeast Bulloch Middle School student was arrested for carrying a weapon on school property Wednesday, but the weapon was a box cutter, Sheriff Brown reported. Deputies responded after being told that the student had a knife and marijuana, but neither of these were found, Brown said, and the juvenile was turned over to parental custody.
Similar reports have not been limited to the Southeast Bulloch schools. On March 1, a female Statesboro High School student reportedly told an administrator she had seen a threat against the school or students posted on social media, but later admitted that she had made the story up.
Then, this Friday, sheriff’s deputies arrested a 14-year-old male student at Langston Chapel Middle School, also on charges of terroristic threats and disrupting a public school. Brown said the student claimed he had a gun on his person and was threatening to kill someone. The student allegedly made the statement in the presence of other students, who told administrators, who contacted the school resource officer, a sheriff’s deputy.
This latest incident came after Thursday evening’s Bulloch County Board of Education meeting, where Wilson announced plans for Tuesday’s community forum at Southeast Bulloch High. Wilson did not refer to or discuss any of the local incidents specifically, but he and one or two board members made general remarks about school safety and the heightened public attention surrounding it.
The local reports come during intensified national concern and media focus following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That shooting left 17 people dead and a 19-year-old former student charged with their murders as well as 17 attempted murders.
Stuart Tedders, Ph.D., Bulloch County Board of Education member in District 3, mentioned the Parkland massacre during Thursday’s board member comments time.
“In light of some of some of the things that have been going on, particularly tragic events and particularly starting in Parkland, Florida, as well as a series of unfortunate events that we’ve all read about locally, I’ve certainly as a parent realized that there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiousness, anxiety, out there,” he said.
Tedders, who is also a professor in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University, commended Bulloch County Schools administrators for how they have handled the incidents.
“I really appreciate your leadership and the district’s leadership on this issue,” he told Wilson, adding that he knows other administrators are involved.
“I think that you guys have acted firm,” Tedders said. “I think that you’ve been as transparent as you can while respecting the confidentiality of certain sensitive issues in the district, and I just want to say ‘thank you’ publicly.”
Public safety partners
Later in the meeting, when Wilson announced plans for Tuesday’s forum, he publicly thanked local law enforcement agencies.
“We’re very fortunate in this community with everything from just cooperation in general to handling matters that have to be handled at the school, investigations that have to occur, but also from the perspective of public safety response,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have public safety partners where we know they’re there for us.”
Wilson had discussed the situation with principals in a meeting Wednesday, and “it really came down to basic expectations in what we allow to happen” including expectations about how students talk to one another, he told the board. Administrators do not have all the answers, he acknowledged.
“What we do know is, as a culture in this community of care and love and high expectations, there are things we can’t tolerate,” Wilson said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.