MARSHFIELD — Officials at Twinfield Union School say they want to continue discussing school safety after the date for a threatened school shooting that came and went without incident.
In late September, a staff member at the school that serves Plainfield and Marshfield received an email stating a school shooting would take place at Twinfield on Oct. 18. School officials contacted law enforcement and made staff aware of the threat within minutes of the threat being reported. School officials reported parents were notified after students were settled in for the day.
But parents complained that they were not given enough detail about the threat, nor that it came with a specific date. Parents said had that information been shared immediately, they likely would not have sent their kids to school until the threat was resolved, or they could have at least made better informed choices about what to do going forward.
At the school board’s regular meeting Oct. 10, school officials acknowledged there was room for improvement on communication, but they noted the incident was under active investigation by Vermont State Police, so they were limited in what they could disclose. They reported law enforcement instructed them initially not to disclose when the shooting was supposed to occur because investigators were using that information to try and find the threat’s source.
More than a dozen parents were in attendance for that Oct. 10 meeting. Some suggested the school bring in an armed guard to protect the students, and others suggested school staff take part in combat medical training so they could properly treat injuries if the school were attacked.
Lt. Charles Winn, commander of the State Police Berlin barracks, told the board last month it was his personal opinion based on available information that the threat was likely part of a larger threat hoax and the chances of finding the person who made the threat were low. Winn reported he did not think it would be a good idea to cancel school on Oct. 18 because threats like these are designed to disrupt. He said the best way to combat these threats is to carry on normally.
While there was increased law enforcement presence at the school leading up to, on and after Oct. 18, the day came and went without incident.
At the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, Board Chair Patrick Healy said he included a discussion about school safety on the agenda because he wanted to discuss the takeaways from the incident now that the threat has passed. Healy said his first takeaway was establishing a protocol to communicate with the community when a situation like this occurs.
Board member Jana Osman asked what the current protocol is. Rachel Hartman, co-principal at Twinfield, said it’s situation dependent. Hartman said law enforcement and the school district are notified. She said choices are then made dependent on what information is included in the threat.
Healy said his impression was that community members were taken aback by not knowing all the details of the threat, nor what was going to happen in response.
Hartman said the school has emergency procedures that it follows, and some of that information is available publicly, but some of it is kept confidential for safety and security reasons.
Hartman said the school followed its protocols and procedures for this threat.
Healy said the community needs to be told that the school will follow the procedures set out by law enforcement and will follow the advice of police.
Board members noted the school did put out messages to the community leading up to the threat, but those messages stopped after the threat had passed. They suggested parents could have been told what the board was told by a State Police commander in October, that the threat was likely a hoax.
Hartman said while Winn reported he was giving his personal opinion, she recently participated in a swatting training, where someone prank calls emergency responders to get them to think an emergency is occurring at a specific place. She said after going through that training, it appeared quite similar to what happened to Twinfield.
“It’s one of those things that though we can’t definitively say (it was a hoax) because we don’t have the evidence to back it up at this point, it matches all of those qualifiers as we were taking that training,” she said.
Hartman said the school usually has immediate answers to give during an emergency situation, but that wasn’t the case here, which made it harder to communicate.
Board member Erin Barry said she spoke with a teacher Tuesday about a different traumatic incident, and the teacher immediately started talking about her trauma response to the threat. Barry asked what the debrief has been with teachers and students since the threat passed.
Hartman said this situation has been a lot to handle for families and for staff. She said teachers have threats like this in the back of their minds all the time, even when there isn’t a specific threat against the school, because school shootings have become so prevalent. School officials said they have met with staff since the threat, but this is something they carry with them every day. They reported there are resources available for staff, though it appeared many of them weren’t accessing those resources.
On the training front, Healy suggested making basic first aid a graduation requirement.
Parent Asa Baer said he didn’t think parents were heard during last month’s board meeting. He noted another parent had offered to give combat medical training, and the school never reached out to that parent.
School officials said they would reach out about training in response to Baer bringing it up.
He also noted that his wife, Caitlin Bingham, had submitted a petition with 171 signatures calling for an armed guard at the school. Parents who support hiring such a guard have said police have reported it can take 30 to 45 minutes to respond to an emergency at the school. The petition came from Change.org, where anyone with internet access can sign it.
Healy said the board had not been presented with a petition signed by registered voters of the two towns.
He said he did discuss possibly bringing in an officer to guard the school and was told by law enforcement that the school would have to contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
Board members expressed some discomfort with the idea of hiring an armed guard for the school and noted that cost would fall on taxpayers in Plainfield and Marshfield, though they weren’t completely opposed to the idea.
Board members said they would continue discussing school safety at future meetings.