Safety Issue – Reflections

On Wednesday, October 5, a text chain was shared with me discussing a potential safety issue for our schools for the next day. This happened around 10:20 pm. By receiving this message, it set events in motion that unfolded over the next 36 hours. After an initial investigation the potential threat was unfounded, but there was still a level of concern. This led to the communication on the morning of Thursday, October 6 and an increased law enforcement presence on our school campus. That morning our School Threat Assessment Team led by our high school administration conducted a school investigation. The investigation identified the source of the threatening message. Our schools are continuing to work with law enforcement officials to follow up. 

As a school leadership team, we reflected on what we did well and what we can do better next time we are confronted with a comparable situation: 

  • Immediate action and partnering with law enforcement was essential, especially given the timing of the threat. 
  • Communications to parents and staff were given as soon as possible. 
  • When communicating, be as specific as possible. If localized to one school, indicate it in the communication. If possible, also give the nature of the safety concern. This also goes for students so they can be vigilant throughout the school day. 
  • Ensure that individuals like substitute staff members, volunteers, and vendors are aware of the safety issue while on campus. 
  • Always make sure a follow up message is shared. This allows individuals to plan and understand where the school is with the issue. 

On Thursday, October 6, I spoke directly to about 30 parents. We discussed several different topics surrounding this safety issue. Two main themes emerged. 

  • First, the question was should I keep my student home. From my perspective, I cannot tell a parent whether or not to do this. It is a parent’s choice in this circumstance. Please know that if there is imminent danger or a fact pattern that dictates it, we will close school. Based on law enforcement’s assessment, this issue did not meet that threshold. 
  • Second, the communication from school should be as specific as possible. As a school district, we always want to communicate these issues as specifically as possible. Whether its a medical emergency, fire evacuation, bomb threat, or simply a fog delay, our intent is to give the most complete information as soon as possible while meeting our legal obligations towards the rights of students, parents, and other individuals impacted. The initial communication in this issue was vague, not purposefully, but due to the threat being unfounded. However, by not communicating anything, we do not give parents the choice to keep their students home. That is not a position we ever want to put parents into. Please know, our intent is to communicate the most complete information to parents and staff as soon as possible. 

We are very fortunate that in Fairbanks we are not confronted with these issues often. This is a direct reflection of the community and the efforts we all make to keep each other safe. When confronted with significant events, we always want to take the time to learn from it so we do not repeat any mistakes that may have occurred. 

While the safety issue was concerning, there were many silver linings that came out of this experience. I am very grateful for the young people that reported this. I am very grateful for the rapid response and partnership from the Union County Sheriff’s Office. I am very grateful for our parents, their communication, and their trust in our staff. Finally, our staff – bus drivers, teachers, food service workers, educational aides, and administrators – showed up and cared for kids like they do everyday. For this, I am extremely grateful. 

If you would like to discuss anything  further, please feel free to contact me at adhamschirg@fairbankspanthers.org

  • Adham Schirg, Fairbanks Local Schools, Superintendent

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