"We cooperate with law enforcement to press charges against those who threaten us and also take measures at the school level. While I cannot share the disciplinary action taken against the five students involved in the incidents at two of our schools, I can assure you they are severe," said Dr. Mills. "As for the staff member at Beddingfield, he is no longer employed with our district and is also facing charges. We appreciate our partnership with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and commend the School Resource Officers who support our students and staff each day.”
Dr. Mills shared that the district continues to evaluate and refine its safety measures.
Two new initiatives the district is working on are an anonymous tip line and a monitoring program for student accounts in Google. The creation of the anonymous tip line will allow anyone who is hesitant to come forward in person the ability to share information anonymously instead. Wilson County Schools plans to roll out the tip line in the next few months rather than wait for the Governor’s Office to provide one next school year. The district is also piloting a program called Bark for Schools, which monitors all student communications in Google Suite and receives alerts when cyberbullying, suicidal ideation, sexual content and threats of violence are detected.
“While safety measures are great deterrents, nothing beats relationships,” said Dr. Mills. “We always encourage our students and staff to share any information that they have about a possible threat, and we make sure they know their concerns will be taken seriously. This creates trust, empowers everyone in the building and allows school administrators, SROs and other staff members to take appropriate action.”
After the incidents at Toisnot MS and Beddingfield HS, which both occured close to dismissal, the principals made parents aware through an automated phone call. At Toisnot MS, Principal Wendy Sullivan met with all of her students the following day because she knew that many of them had concerns. She shared with them an overview of what had happened and the importance of taking responsibility for their safety.
“I told them that it was a day that will be etched in my mind forever because I saw the sadness on the faces of those students’ families when they were charged,” said Ms. Sullivan. “That’s the other side of this. Yes, we are outraged when our safety is threatened, and we have zero tolerance, but we are also heartbroken for the students who make these choices. They are a part of our school family too, and their lives will never be the same.”
Ms. Sullivan also re-emphasized to the students their school motto - SOAR - where the “S” stands for safety and it’s the first letter in the acronym because it’s the top priority. Ms. Sullivan shared with the students how proud she was of the person who came forward to tell School Resource Officer Deputy Freeman about the possibility of a weapon on campus. She also applauded the work of Deputy Freeman and Assistant Principal Matthew Crayton.
“I tell our students that it’s everybody's job to keep our school safe - it’s not just my job as your principal or our SRO’s job. There are more students in the building than adults, and we have to rely on them.”
At Beddingfield HS, Principal FT Franks said that once he and other staff members are made aware of an incident, it’s all hands on deck to take care of it.
“Everything stops when we are notified of anything that threatens our safety,” said Mr. Franks. “In the instance of the air rifle locked in a student’s car, we had that student in my office in a matter of minutes. When we learned about the stolen gun in the former employee’s car, our driving students were exiting campus, but we were able to search students who were on buses. When we came back to school on Tuesday after the holiday weekend, we had eight deputies on campus to reassure our students and also to remind those who are thinking about making a poor choice to reconsider. I commend the students who came forward with information because that’s not always easy. We are a family at Beddingfield, and it takes all of us to protect it.”