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Knife to student’s throat merits 12-day suspension

Parents share their family’s experience with violence at KGES

There is an old expression that says “bad things happen to good people.” One local King George couple is willing to share their “bad things happen” story that began, unbeknownst to them, in a fifth grade classroom in King George Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011.

Matt and Holly Hayden are long-time King George residents. They have two young children, own and operate a small

business, work hard, and take seriously their commitment to their family and community. Their daily routine was much like yours or mine, an early rise and shine, then get the family ready for work and school. That evening, on Jan. 4, their fifth-grader at King George Elementary School never said a word to the Haydens about what happened at school that day. Neither did the other fifth grade students who had witnessed the incident — they all had not said a word to their families about what happened in their classroom on Jan. 4.

So it was a surprise to Matt and Holly when they received a phone call Thursday, Jan. 6 from KGES Guidance Counselor Lynda Colley. Colley informed them that one of their child’s fifth grade classmates had brought a knife to school on Tuesday, Jan. 4 and had held it to their child’s neck in the classroom. One of the young student witnesses had finally told their parents, who had called the school. Colley also informed the Haydens that the fifth-grader who had the knife had been placed on out of school suspension.

Due in part to a threat of “don’t tell or I’ll bring a bigger knife and cut somebody” from the student with the knife and an elementary school fear of being labeled a “tattle-tale,” the Haydens’ fifth-grader chose not to say anything to either parents or teachers about the incident.

Although relieved their child was not hurt, the Haydens then had some tough parenting decisions ahead of them. They had to make it clear to their child that “telling’ isn’t ‘tattling.” Further, they had to reassure their child that the student who brought the knife to school and placed it on his neck is not exhibiting normal behavior — nor is threatening to “bring a bigger knife and cut somebody,” acceptable behavior and that all those behaviors have severe consequences.

The Haydens called for a meeting with KGES School Principal Ronald Monroe, their child’s teacher and Colley on Tuesday, Jan. 11. There they were informed that the student with the knife was currently serving a 12-day out of school suspension pending a disciplinary hearing and decision of further disciplinary actions by the King George School Board. The Haydens also learned that a report of the incident had not been filed with the King George Sheriff’s Office by KGES administration.

On Monday, Jan. 31 the Haydens learned that the 12-day out of school suspension period was up and that the fifth-grader had returned to school and had been placed in a different homeroom. The School Board disciplinary hearing had resulted in no further actions taken against the student. Hoping to understand the reasoning behind the board’s decision not to impose a longer suspension period when the School Policy JFCD clearly calls for 365 days of out of school suspension, the Haydens set up a meeting with School Board Chairman Renee Parker and School Superintendent Candace Brown, who was not available until Wednesday, Feb. 2.

The meeting on Feb. 2 with Brown and Parker left the Haydens feeling like they were “talking to a wall,” Holly said. The Haydens also learned that at no time was a statement taken from their child for presentation to the School Board at the disciplinary hearing. Upon leaving the meeting, the Haydens went to the Sheriff’s Office and arranged to speaker to Deputy Wharton. Wharton took a statement of the incident and informed the Haydens that the school had filed no charges and that they could file criminal charges. The King George Sheriff’s Office does have possession of the knife — a paring knife — that had been hidden and found, allegedly on school property.

The day before the meeting with Brown and Parker — and after much family discussion — on Tuesday, Feb. 1, Holly had met with Monroe and informed the school of their decision to home school their two children. Holly reports that teachers were helpful and provided school work for the children while Holly puts together a curriculum and purchases necessary books and supplies. The family did not make their decision to home school lightly, but felt under the circumstances it was the only thing they could do.

“We know that public schools aren’t perfect, but we always felt our kids were in relatively safe hands,” Matt said.

Could the school have done more? According to Holly, the student who brought the knife to school could have been ordered to take a psychiatric evaluation before returning to school; the student could have been placed on a 365-day out of school suspension status in view of the seriousness of the incident; the school could have made a report to the Sheriff’s Office; the school could have taken a statement from the Haydens’ child for use in assessing the incident; and, finally, the school could have informed the parents of all children attending KGES that the incident had taken placed and that steps were being taken to insure that their children were safe at school. Holly also stated that she had to initiate all meetings and the school could have been more proactive at keeping the family informed.

As of Tuesday afternoon, only School Board member Michael Rose responded to e-mails from The Journal, saying “I do not comment on student disciplinary actions.” Other members of the school board, Superintendent Candace Brown, Assistant Superintendent Richard Roberts, KGES Principal Ronald Monroe, KGES Vice Principal Angela Harris, KGES Guidance Counselor Lynda Colley and Supervisor of Guidance Gayle Hock did not respond to The Journal’s request for comment.

Also of concern is that other students besides the Haydens’ child were affected by the incident that took place on Jan. 4. Other fifth-graders witnessed the knife being held to the Haydens’ child and other fifth graders were threatened to “don’t tell,” and students in other grades are aware of the incident. The effects of school violence are not limited only to victims and perpetrators; there is clear evidence that student bystanders are also affected.

Matt Hayden said of the school’s response: “I guess for me, one of the biggest things is the way they swept everything under the rug.”
At the Hayden home, their day-to-day routine is forever changed.

Kathy Flanagan

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