A number of parents have criticized the Columbia School District’s efforts to keep their children safe following its response to an alleged threat from a Columbia High School student, in which the student laid out a detailed plan including the classmates he would target.
Parent Nathan Vineyard posted last Monday on Facebook that a CHS student made a deadly threat March 21 against several other students, including Vineyard’s son.
Vineyard states in his Facebook post that reports had been made that the student shared images of himself on social media with guns while criticizing the recent Parkland, Fla. school shooting, saying it would have been more effective with a different choice of weapon.
He told the Republic-Times that these reports came from students. Additionally, a Columbia police detective informed Vineyard his son was on the student’s alleged “hit list.”
Vineyard’s post has since been removed per a request from the Columbia Police Department, which is investigating the incident, he said.
“There were concerns over the details impacting people’s judgment and skewing opinions in the midst of the investigation,” Vineyard explained.
Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said CHS administration notified his department last Wednesday afternoon of “inappropriate comments” allegedly made by a student.
“Investigators have been working closely with Columbia High School and district administrative staff to thoroughly investigate,” Paul stated in a news release. “The Monroe County State’s Attorney has been informed of the investigation and will be asked to review all information.”
In posting his concerns about the threat, Vineyard said he hoped to point out a lack of communication from the school, as well as rally support from other concerned parents.
“I’ve been disappointed in the response of the local officials and am seeking potential support and communications from the other parents who most likely are unaware of the developing situation,” his post reads.
Columbia school superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano said the student in question was removed from the school immediately after the threat was brought to administrators’ attention.
Officials worked to determine the credibility of the threat before deciding on whether to alert parents.
She added the student violated the third level of the student code of conduct. According to the CHS student handbook, such a violation results in a one-to-10-day suspension with possible expulsion determined by the school board.
Additionally, the school district sent out an email to parents last Monday notifying them of the threat.
“Columbia High School administration was alerted of a social media post and comments made by a student that are considered threatening,” Segobiano states in the email. (CHS principal Brian) Reeves has taken appropriate disciplinary measures to address this matter and has reported the incident to the Columbia Police Department for further investigation. Please be assured that all students are safe and secure at Columbia High School.”
Segobiano also assures parents in the email that all threats to Columbia schools and students are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
Vineyard said he met with Reeves last Monday prior to the school district sending out its email. He added that, based on his conversation with Reeves, the school was not planning to send out any communications to parents.
That’s when Vineyard said he took it upon himself to create the Facebook post. During his meeting with the principal, he said Reeves indicated he did not think the matter needed to be addressed.
“As a parent, I would want to know when these things occur. That not being done was very disappointing, as well as the approach by the principal,” he said of the school not notifying parents.
Other parents lambasted the school district for the timing of the email.
“The kids have known for over a week. Parents just notified today… something is fishy there…,” Joshua McConachie wrote on Facebook.
Reeves addressed CHS students last Tuesday to talk about the threat and to counteract “inaccuracies” on social media.
“It has been brought to my attention some of you are concerned about a Facebook post,” Reeves said in his address to students, a written copy of which was obtained by the Belleville-News Democrat. “As with many things you read on social media, there were some inaccuracies… The security of all the students and staff in this building is of the utmost importance to me.
“I do not take that lightly. The fact is, there was a threat. Students brought that information to the office. The matter was investigated, and the student faces severe discipline for his comments.”
In addition to his discussion about alerting parents, Vineyard said he asked authorities and school officials about plans to upgrade school security. He said the school “offered very limited information.”
“They mentioned they were doing all they could and that security is the No. 1 priority. But they didn’t have any news to report or mechanisms to address threats,” he said.
Last week, school administrators met with Columbia police and the Columbia Fire Department for its annual safety meeting. Segobiano said the meeting covered every aspect of school safety.
Vineyard said he pulled his son out of school after hearing of the threat and was still deciding whether he would send him back when the kids returned from Easter break.
“I truly feel bad for this student’s parents and for the student himself because he obviously needs support. He surely needs good sound mental health attention and I hope he receives it,” his posting continues.