Article updated at 11:45 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13:
Recent incidents and their aftermath at Billy Mills Middle School have some families on edge with concerns about student safety. On top of that, students at two other middle schools allegedly made false reports of a shooting and a threat on Monday, and police were investigating a threat to a Lawrence elementary school Monday night.
On Nov. 29, BMMS administrators discovered that a student had brought several loose bullets to school, according to an email from Principal Andrew Taylor.
“While the safety of our students was not threatened by this lapse in good judgment, clearly the potential for concern exists when poor choices like this are made,” Taylor wrote. “In accordance with Board policy, I worked with a school resource officer and this student and family to investigate the concern fully and ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
And last Tuesday, Dec. 7, the school worked with law enforcement and filed a police report after “a student was overheard making a threatening comment toward the school,” district spokesperson Julie Boyle wrote in an email that day. “They met with the student and a parent. The school initiated disciplinary action in accordance with Board Policy. Staff notified school families of the investigation.”
Talk about the same alleged threat picked up steam again later in the week, spurring new concerns from some. But there was no “new” threat, Boyle said.
“Police repeated their investigation, including visiting the family’s home. Police have shared with us that there is no evidence to suggest that an additional threat was made,” Boyle wrote in an email late Thursday. “This student is not at school. Police believe that the information being spread on social media is word continuing to spread about Tuesday’s threat.”
Still, several families kept their BMMS students home from school on Friday. Taylor notified families that there would be an increased police presence on campus Friday and Monday amid the concerns.
Monday at Southwest Middle School, a student allegedly called 911 and falsely reported a shooting, Boyle said in an email.
“There was NO shooting nor any other safety concern at the school,” she said. “Staff notified police and the student’s family of the false report and will take action in accordance with Board Policy and the Student Handbook. While we cannot discuss student disciplinary matters due to student privacy rights, we can share that there are serious consequences for any student falsely reporting a crime and by doing so, threatening the safety of our schools.”
And a Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student allegedly reported to staff that another student wrote a threat against the school on a note being passed between students, Boyle wrote.
“School administration and law enforcement investigated, including interviewing the student and parent. The student admitted that the note was a hoax. There is NO credible threat against the safety of LMCMS. Staff have taken appropriate action. The district informed LMCMS families of the hoax.”
Boyle said the district has asked parents and guardians to talk to their children about the seriousness of false reports of school violence and threats.
“Our schools will not tolerate this behavior and will continue to take action and involve law enforcement, which could lead to possible criminal charges,” Boyle wrote.
Falsely reporting a crime can be a felony under Kansas law.
In response to a follow-up question, Boyle said the district has mental health teams in each of its schools, including social workers, counselors, behavior support teachers, instructional specialists, school psychologists and nurses, as well as Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) therapists.
“In addition to academics, our teachers provide social and emotional learning instruction, including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management (how to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations—effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself; and the ability to set and work toward goals, etc.) relationship building, and responsible decision making skills, among other skills.
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“Our schools appreciate the assistance of school families in reinforcing these skills with their children at home,” Boyle said.
Amid high levels of staff resignations and shortages of support staff, school changes for many students, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and more, the fall semester has been very challenging for many students, staff members and families in Lawrence and statewide.
At district administrators’ encouragement, the Lawrence school board voted in November to extend the fall break to give students and staff nine consecutive days off, citing heightened stress and mental health concerns.
The first full day of winter break for all grade levels will be Wednesday, Dec. 22, and schools are closed until Thursday, Jan. 6.
The school district reported another threat late Monday, this time at an elementary school.
“Staff received a report today from a former student that a current Broken Arrow student was overheard on the bus threatening to bring a gun to school. Staff called police to report the threat and notified the student’s guardian. Staff also interviewed the former student making the report and another student sitting nearby on the bus,” Boyle wrote in an email to Broken Arrow families Monday night.
“Lawrence police continue to investigate this report. As a safety precaution, there will be a police presence on Broken Arrow’s campus tomorrow. This student will not be at school,” Boyle wrote. “In addition, threatening graffiti was found in the pedestrian tunnel near Broken Arrow school today. Staff also reported this matter to police.”
Boyle said the district takes threats seriously and works closely with law enforcement to address them, and there are serious consequences for students who are found to be involved in making threats.
“Please continue to share any safety concerns with the school and encourage your students to report safety concerns to an adult at school,” Boyle wrote.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.