PUSD superintendent addresses recent school threats and protocols
By Debra Moore
Last fall there was just one school threat or “suspicious activity,” as Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Bill Roderick characterized it, but in the past couple of weeks there have been incidents at five campuses.
During an interview Feb. 3, Roderick discussed the uptick in instances and how the school and district addresses them. The afternoon prior, Roderick was on the Chester Elementary School campus, at the request of Principal Scott Cory, following an incident there. (See related story.)
Chester Elementary was one of the five campuses to address some sort of threat in recent weeks. The others were Greenville High School, Portola High School, Quincy Elementary School and Quincy High School. When asked if there were any similarities between the incidents, Roderick said, “No, they were all different. They were different ages; they used different words.”
When asked about the timing, Roderick said he isn’t sure what has prompted the recent burst of activity, but he knows that the students hear about what is happening at other schools through social media. “Kids talk and they hear about it immediately,” he said.
What Roderick wants students, parents and the community to know, is that the district takes each comment seriously and thoroughly investigates them with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office. “I really appreciate their response, especially knowing that they are short-handed,” he said.
Roderick stressed the following point: “We will not reopen a school unless we know it’s safe. Everything we do is for the safety of our students and staff.”
As part of the investigation, the Sheriff tells the district whether the individual who made the threat has the ways and means to carry it out, and that is factored in to when the school can reopen.
If a threat is substantiated, there will be consequences, Roderick said, from both a school and law enforcement perspective. He would like parents to talk to their children and if there are issues that the student is struggling with, he wants them to know that there are resources available to help. Because when someone “blurts out something” it puts in motion a series of events that they might not have anticipated.
Often that means closing school for a period of time — something Roderick said students can’t afford. “Every time it happens, even if school reopens quickly, it affects the campus for the rest of the day,” he said. “We are already trying to play catch-up from COVID and the Dixie Fire.”
Roderick said the situation will be discussed at next week’s leadership team meeting, to determine what else can be done. “Do we have our ear to the ground on campuses?” he said, as an example.
The situation is not unique to Plumas Unified, but that brings little solace to the students, staff and families of local schools. Roderick said he and other superintendents discuss the topic of school threats regularly and how to address them.
One thing that he can’t address is specifics of any incident because it usually involves student discipline. In small communities, sometimes word can spread locally about who made the threat, but the district cannot comment on individual students, which can lead to frustration as it did in Chester and resulted in a parent meeting.