Montville ― Some parents here are criticizing school officials for how they reacted to what the parents say was a threatening comment made by an Oakdale Elementary School student on Friday.
Four parents who spoke to The Day on the record decried the actions of the school officials, saying they were upset with how they had been left in the dark about a threat that involved their children.
Three of those parents alleged, based on information provided by their children and others, that a student had made threats of gun violence against other students, while a fourth alleged the student had pointed a pen or pencil in the direction of other students saying he would harm them.
“To my knowledge, he only said, ‘I will kill you, I will destroy you,’ ” said Oakdale parent Lexi Caldwell.
Other parents say a vaguely worded email sent to them Sunday by school Principal Jill Mazzalupo raised more questions than it answered about the incident:
“Over the course of the weekend, we have corresponded with several parents who have raised concerns about safety at Oakdale Elementary School. At this time, we felt that enough parents have heard of these concerns that it warrants a schoolwide message,” she wrote in the e-mail.
“We do not have concerns about students’ safety at Oakdale and there is no reason to keep your students out of school. There has been no credible threat to student safety, but as is our daily practice, Officer Aleshire will be present at the school,” she wrote referring to school Resource Officer Karen Aleshire.
“Please know that students’ safety is always our top priority. We are sending this email to allay any concerns and assure you that we are confident in the measures we have taken to assure the safety of the community,” she added.
School responds to criticism
Meanwhile, Superintendent Laurie Pallin maintained in a Tuesday statement that due to student confidentiality requirements, she could not make specifics of the incident public.
“Over the weekend, we received emails from parents who had heard about the incident, and the principal and I personally spoke with concerned families on Sunday. In addition, the principal sent a message out to all Oakdale families.”
Since then, Pallin said she and Mazzalupo have continued to respond to parents and address their concerns.
“We responded individually to every parent while maintaining necessary confidentiality and offered meetings to those parents who would like to speak in person,” she added.
Several parents said they had requested a group meeting be held between the students and teacher from the involved classroom, parents, school resource officer, principal and superintendent, but were denied.
The purpose of that meeting, school parent Lexi Caldwell said, would have been to “express our concerns and reestablish trust.”
Pallin said the request was denied because the school’s administration believes “it is important that we hear individual concerns in a confidential environment and take the time to thoughtfully listen and respond to each person.”
On Tuesday, Pallin wrote, “On Friday, we received a report that a student made a concerning and very inappropriate comment in the classroom.” This was investigated, and it was determined there was not a credible threat to student safety as a result of the comment.”
The investigation has involved Aleshire, she said.
Police Lt. David Radford on Monday said the department has no concerns about the safety of any of the town’s schools.
Some parents keep kids home
All four parents who spoke to the Day and had kept their children out of school due to the incident, remained unconvinced.
“My daughter’s been home today, yesterday and will be home tomorrow as well,” Caldwell said.
“We cannot trust their word at this moment due to the lack of communication and the disregard of our children’s concerns, because almost every child in that class says they are scared,” she said.
Likewise, Erika Jones, whose son attends the school, said she had kept him out Monday. Jones said when she received Mazzalupo’s email Sunday, she had no idea what it was about, and had emailed Pallin.
That was the case for more 20 residents, who by Tuesday had taken to the town’s Facebook forum to criticize the lack of information in the original email to parents.
Details came from students
Several of the parents said they had learned details of the incident from their children.
“Actually, I have a child in that classroom where the concern was raised,” Erin Benton said. “We heard about it from our child and other parents from a group message on Friday after school had happened.”
The parents say they want better communication from the school in the future, especially when the matter concerns the safety of their kids.
“I think my concerns are ‘why were we not informed?’ ” Benton said, adding that she wants transparency and open communication between parents and the school without having to fight for it.
“We shouldn’t have to go to the newspaper or be all over Facebook to get an answer or response,” she added.
“I think they just should have been more specific about the situation itself,” parent Nicole Almonacid added. “But the lack of detail makes us worry more.”