School officials say they've reprimanded the principal in response to a threat incident at Governor's Ranch Elementary School.
School officials say they've reprimanded the principal in response to a threat incident at Governor's Ranch Elementary School.
jeffcopublicschools.org

Jeffco School Threat Mishandled, Parents Say

A Jefferson County Public Schools investigation has concluded that a principal and a psychologist at Governor's Ranch Elementary School violated district policies in their response to one student's alleged threat to shoot another. But the mother of the targeted student, who only learned of the threat months after it was reported to school officials, questions whether the "corrective actions" taken in the case go far enough.

"No one is being held accountable," says the mother, Alisa, who asked that her last name not be published in order to protect her son's privacy. "It's very easy to be reactive when someone gets hurt, but what about being proactive? This principal should not be in a position of leadership."

School district spokeswoman Diana Wilson says that the principal, Mary Rose Keyes, was reprimanded over her handling of the incident and that staff at the elementary school are undergoing retraining on threat assessment procedures. "The principal feels horrible about this," Wilson says. "She apologized to all of the parents involved. This is a tough situation, given the ages of the students and other circumstances. There are a lot of judgment calls here, and I don't think anyone walked away satisfied."

School security policies have been a sensitive topic in the Jeffco school district dating back to the 1999 Columbine shootings. In the aftermath of that tragedy, school officials were castigated for ignoring "red flags" in prior threats that the teen gunmen made against other students, as well as violent-themed essays and videos they submitted to teachers. But an increased emphasis on safety also led to post-Columbine criticisms that the district was too quick to suspend or expel students who didn't fit in at typical suburban schools.

The incident at Governor's Ranch occurred last February. Students were lined up in a hallway, on their way to class, when one eight-year-old — Alisa's son — said something about liking Donald Trump. According to subsequent emails among school officials, another boy responded by saying he was "going to get my dad's shotgun and kill him." The remark was overheard by some other students, who reported it to the school's art teacher. That teacher contacted Keyes by email, but Keyes was attending a district meeting out of the building that day. The principal had staff contact the school psychologist, David Romig, to do a threat assessment.

Romig met with the fourth-grader in question, who told him that his father did have guns at home, but he was only joking about shooting the other boy. Romig also spoke with the boy's parents and concluded the threat was low-risk — "not a big deal," he reportedly told one teacher. He later told investigators that "he did not believe he had a duty to report this incident due to the broad generality of the threat."

Alisa says that her son didn't overhear the alleged threat and that she and her husband were never notified of the incident by school officials. Nor was law enforcement; the district's own safety people weren't provided with information required by established policies, either. Alisa and her husband only learned about it five months later, when they were out to dinner with the parents of another student who was in the same class  and had heard the threat.

Although the other boy was only nine, Alisa says she had genuine concerns about his ability to carry out the threat. His family lives across the street from hers, and the boy had manifested "behavioral issues" at school before, including hitting other students and causing classroom disturbances. Alisa says he showed up at her door when her family was first moving into the neighborhood, demanded to be let inside, and spit on her when she refused.

Alisa and her husband arranged a meeting with Keyes. At first Keyes couldn't recall anything about a threat to their son; after she checked her files, she seemed surprised to find Romig's threat-assessment documents and stated it appeared that the school had "messed up." In subsequent discussion with district officials, Keyes offered no excuse for failing to contact the parents and "stated that it simply slipped her mind."

Other school officials told Alisa that "they would understand if we took our son out of that school," Alisa says. "They did us and this other family a disservice. Suggesting people leave the school is not solving the problem."

As it turned out, the other boy's family decided to enroll him in a different school this fall. At a community forum last month, the boy's father read a letter acknowledging that his son "said something extremely inappropriate," but questioning whether the remark was directed at another student or President Trump: "His statement was not made in anger, or with any malice, but rather in the spirit of joining in with the overall silliness of his classmates."

The district sent out two letters to Governor's Ranch parents in recent weeks conceding that mistakes were made but noting various steps taken to ease concerns, including "an extra security presence at the beginning of the school year" and "additional social-emotional staff support for students." "We opted to tell everybody what was going on," Wilson says.

Alisa says her family doesn't feel reassured. The kids at Governor's Ranch may be young, but school experiences at all ages help shape future behavior. One GRE alumnus is Dylan Klebold, who attended special classes for "Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students" (CHIPS) with his then-best friend Brooks Brown. "Dylan and I got our first taste of bullying on the playgrounds of Governor's Ranch," Brown wrote in his 2002 book (co-authored with Rob Merritt) No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine. "It wouldn't be our last."

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