Fri08222014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Suffering sophomore remains at home

Editor’s note: Few articles have ever incited the King George community as much as last week’s Journal article telling the story of the sophomore at King George High School who was jumped in the cafeteria and suffered three fractures to his jaw.  Based on public comments published on the Journal’s website, the community seems divided, with each side calling for some sort of punishment to be meted out to either school personnel, School Board members, or this reporter.  Under the guise of an anonymous posting, it is easy to throw caution to the wind and rail against the perceived wrong-doers.

What is more difficult is to openly and honestly address an issue that is now before the community and to ask the hard

questions.  Are our children safe at school?  What is being done to assure their safety?

The Journal recognizes school violence is not an easy subject to read about. And The Journal also recognizes that many community members would rather not know about incidents that may reflect badly on the current state of our schools.
The Journal will continue to report on school violence incidents and policy or procedural failures that come to our attention with the hope of informing our readers about a subject that is difficult to accept, but can have a good outcome if brought out into the light and addressed by administrators, policy makers and the community. 

Phone calls and e-mails to School Superintendent Candace Brown, KGHS Principal Cliff Conway, KGHS and all members of the King George School Board have gone mostly unanswered. Lynn Pardee did answer her phone and did not want to make a comment. Dennis Paulsen answered his phone and said “I don’t read your paper.”

The sophomore’s mom from last week’s story answered her phone. And when asked how her son was doing, she told us. He has had one 4-hour surgery where a titanium plate was permanently fixed to his jaw. The plate will remain there for the rest of his life. The other side of his jaw has bolts and screws on the top and bottom. His whole jaw is wired shut. He is on a liquid diet, only able to take in nutrition through a straw and he is scheduled for one more surgery next week.

The sophomore and his mom are now concerned about his classwork. His mom asked Conway and Assistant Principal Duane Harrison to provide classwork for him to do at home so he doesn’t fall too far behind. He has been out of school since Feb. 4.  As of Monday, Feb. 21, the family had received limited classwork for only two out of four classes.

King George Sheriff Steve Dempsey reported on Tuesday, Feb. 22 that Corporal Norris, the high school Resource Officer, “has been conducting a lot of interviews and is continuing to investigate the incident on Feb. 4.”

Since publication of last week’s story, The Journal has received reports from other families in King George who assert that their children were also victims either of violence or failed policies. A fifth grader is now being homeschooled because of an incident at King George Elementary that involved a classmate holding a knife to the student’s throat in a classroom. The student with the knife was disciplined with out of school suspension. However, the parents of the young victim are not convinced the school did or will continue to do everything possible to assure their child’s safety in school.

A grandmother with a grandchild who attends the high school is upset and claims that when her grandchild went to the school nurse and complained of chest pains, the student was given a cup of ice chips and sent back to class. That student was taken to the emergency room by the grandmother after school and spent three days in Mary Washington Hospital being treated for pneumothorax, a potentially dangerous medical condition consisting of a collection of air or gas in the pleural cavity of the chest between the lung and the chest wall.

The research on prevention of school violence is abundant and makes a clear case for adopting policies and strategies that have been proven to reduce school violence.

School violence, which includes bullying, is on the rise in schools all across the nation. Other school local school systems have taken steps to train all members of the school system — administrators, teachers, custodians, and food service personnel to recognize and how to properly respond to bullying or threats of violence and have included town meetings to educate the community as well.

Donna Power, School Superintendent for Colonial Beach Schools in Westmoreland County, has instituted comprehensive training through the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program for all members of her school staff.  The Olweus program is premised on research that indicates “that teachers who systematically implemented the anti-bullying rules in their classroom experienced larger reductions in bullying problems.”   Power has scheduled a series of parent and community training “town hall” style meetings that will teach families and community members to become proactive and will address how to identify and respond to suspected peer bullying.

Researchers at the University of Virginia have developed a set of guidelines for school administrators to use in responding to a reported student threat of violence that emphasizes early attention to problems such as bullying, teasing, and other forms of student conflict before they escalate into violent behavior.

The first three steps constitute a triage process in which a school administrator investigates a reported threat and determines whether the threat can be readily resolved as a transient threat that is not a serious threat. The study lists examples of transient threats as being jokes or statements made in anger that are expressions of feeling or figures of speech rather than expressions of a genuine intent to harm someone.

Any threat that cannot be clearly identified and resolved as transient is treated as a substantive threat. Substantive threats always require protective action to prevent the threat from being carried out. The remaining four steps guide the team through more extensive assessment and response based on the seriousness of the threat. In the most serious cases, the team conducts a safety evaluation that includes both a law enforcement investigation and a mental health assessment of the student. The culmination of the threat assessment is the development of a safety plan that is designed to address the problem or conflict underlying the threat and prevent the act of violence from taking place. For both transient and substantive threats, there is an emphasis on helping students to resolve conflicts and minimizing the use of zero-tolerance suspensions as a disciplinary response. – Excerpts taken from the Virginia Youth Violence Project, School of Education, University of Virginia.

Kathy Flanagan
 

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