Westfield school threat unfounded, but safety protocol worked well, officials say | #schoolsaftey

WESTFIELD — Reports that a middle school student was bringing a weapon to school on Sept. 20 turned out to be unfounded, but school leaders say they are pleased with how the potential threat was handled.

Westfield Middle School Principal Jesse McMillan said the school immediately contacted the Westfield Police Department, School Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, and district Safety and Operations Director Christopher Rogers to apprise all team members of the reports.

Members of the Westfield Police Department responded and investigated the situation, after which they posted the following message:

“After a thorough investigation, this has been determined to be a non-credible threat. Investigators spoke with involved parties and parents and would like to assure our community that all students and staff at the middle school are safe and able to return to normal school business. Thank you all for the fast reporting and tips that came in. Thanks to your diligence, we were able to resolve this matter quickly.”

“It all happened so quickly yesterday,” McMillan said on Thursday. He said the district and school have an anonymous alert system on their websites that anyone can access and submit anything they wish to submit, and the school started to receive anonymous alerts. He said staff members, families and students reached out to the school and to the Police Department.

“I am incredibly grateful for anyone reaching out, even if they don’t think it’s true,” McMillan added. He said he also contacted Czaporowski and Rogers to discuss plans for outreach, after which he sent a letter to the school community about the incident, which he also posted on the school’s website page.

“At times like this, our goal is not to cause alarm and panic, but it is important to be transparent, especially when multiple reports are coming in. We want to provide information as quickly as possible,” McMillan said. He said the school is continuing to implement the district-wide threat response protocol, which he said is very thorough.

McMillan said the school opened on Thursday with a police presence. He was at home welcoming his wife and new baby daughter, but said “I’ve been in touch with my administrative team. Everything is running as smoothly as possible.”

He invited people who have questions or additional information to report to contact him directly at [email protected]. McMillan said he is always available to be a listening ear.

“While we’re unable to answer specific questions, I’m always willing to listen and to validate their concerns. I get their feelings of concern and frustration,” he said, adding, “Families are always welcome to contact me.”

Rogers said regardless of how a potential threat is reported, whether in person, over the phone, in writing, online or as an anonymous alert statement, as soon as they get it at the building or district level, they take immediate action to mitigate any potential threat from happening and immediate steps to ensure that the safety and security of the school community is intact.

Rogers said depending on the situation, as in this recent report where a student made a threat toward the school, they immediately involve the Westfield Police Department, get in touch with that student’s parents or guardians, and make sure that the student or individual that made the threat cannot carry out the threat.

After they ensure there is no active threat, they bring together a team of professionals, already assigned in each school, for a behavioral health threat assessment. They look at what allegedly occurred and whether the person had the capacity to carry out the threat. They investigate it thoroughly, and intervention plans are put in place.

“Step 1 is the most important,” Rogers said, referring to immediate action, immediate mitigation, involving first responders and ensuring the safety of the students and staff. “From there, we take appropriate action on threat mitigation and assessment, and develop plans to remedy this particular situation.”

Rogers said part of the process is to communicate with the school community almost immediately, as soon as they know of a potential threat or incident, to let them know that they are looking into it and taking steps to make sure everything is OK.

He said the school teams have been trained on the process and know what to do, and are constantly training.

Speaking in generalities, Rogers said the student is immediately removed, but a lot is based on what allegedly occurred.

“Every situation is different,” he said, adding that a threat from a 5-year-old, for example, may not require the same emergency response as one from a middle schooler. He said there is a threat assessment protocol that is universal, “just like all our school safety plans.”

“Just like any other school district, we’re going to deal with things as they arise, and we’re trying to prevent them instead of always responding to them,” Rogers said, adding, “The bottom line is, whenever we get a threat, we take it incredibly seriously.”

In the letter to the community, McMillan, who started as the middle school principal in January, wrote that the safety of the school community is his first concern.

“As your school principal, there is nothing I take more seriously than the safety of our students, our staff, and our school as a whole,” he wrote.

McMillan said for him it was nice to start a new school year, and this year had started really smoothly.

“Starting off fresh was really nice for me and for the staff. The goal is consistent expectations — we’ve been implementing that since day 1 and the students and staff are doing an amazing job. We have absolutely wonderful seventh and eighth grade cohorts,” he said. Enrollment at Westfield Middle School is 710 students this year.

“In these moments, I think it’s important to highlight the positives. As a school, we have so many positive things that are happening. This should not shed a negative light on the school or the district, because we have so many positive things that are happening,” McMillan said.

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