From The Tribune staff reports
TRUSSVILLE — Trussville City Councilmember Ben Short wrote an open letter to the Trussville City Schools Board of Education addressing recent terroristic threats made at Hewitt-Trussville High School (HTHS). An HTHS student has been suspended after terroristic threats were made on Friday, Sept. 16. The Trussville Police Department (TPD) was investigating the threat when they were notified that, last school year, the same student had created a “death notebook” containing 37 names.
“Dear Board of Education,
Over the past few days, I’ve spoken with parents, fellow law enforcement officers, and concerned citizens about our system’s procedural and statutory failures as it relates to the Trussville Tribune article outlining a criminal investigation into terrorist threats at HTHS. Alabama statute 16-1-24.1 outlines that ‘the principal SHALL notify appropriate law enforcement officials when any person violates local board or education policies concerning drugs, alcohol, weapons, physical harm to a person, or threatened physical harm to a person.’
Based on my September 26th meeting with Superintendent Dr. Neill, along with HTHS Principal Tim Salem, it has become clear that the Trussville City Schools System didn’t notify law enforcement last year when they became aware of a death notebook that contained threatened physical harm to other students. While, after speaking with Dr. Neill & Mr. Salem, I believe our administration has always held and will always hold student safety as one of their highest priorities. I have a better understanding of the decisions made, right or wrong, and believe we are on the same page in reviewing our policies and procedures moving forward. Our city provides sworn law enforcement officers in each of our schools to keep our students safe and they are unable to provide the level of security that is required of them when school administration fails to notify or work with the police when situations concerning threatened bodily harm arise. Our officers are not there simply for the perception of safety and I feel the school administration and law enforcement need to have constructive dialogue to ensure that everyone is on the same page in handling scenarios involving threats.
As a leader within this community, I feel it’s important to say that I have always and will always support our teachers, the Trussville City School System, and those that serve on our Board of Education. Supporting our students academically and athletically will always be a priority for me, as I know it is for each of you, but I cannot sit by silently while our system has serious missteps as it relates to the safety of our students. As a sworn law enforcement officer, I would be doing the community a disservice if I remained silent and didn’t point out that on May 24th, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas, nineteen students and two teachers lost their lives; while on that same day, in Trussville, a book containing a death list with 37 students names was locked in a desk drawer at Hewitt Trussville High School and no one informed the police.
Consider this my formal request for a copy of our system’s policy and procedures related to threats of bodily harm. I wish to get a better understanding of what other policies, if any, were violated or need to be modified to better outline the steps we expect of our system. It is my hope that you will charge your staff with participating in a full review of this situation, ideally conducted by the board in conjunction with an outside party, and remind them of their statutory duty to report these situations. Additionally, I’m aware that the criminal investigation, conducted by the Trussville Police Department, is over and the Jefferson County DA’s Office declined to issue a warrant but that cannot be the justification for not reviewing this further. I’m grateful for our TPD investigators and school resource officers and it is my hope that our system can learn from the mistakes that were made and properly address them as we move forward. Simply put, our system must do better. I’m hopeful that each of you, as members of our Board of Education, immediately addresses this issue and provides clear instructions to our superintendent for procedures, expectations, and specific actions for the administration to handle situations like this moving forward.
I would also ask that you publicize the instructions/actions, should you take any, in order to restore confidence in our board, our superintendent, and our school system as a whole as our community deserves accountability and transparency from all who serve. Thank you for your service to our community and I appreciate your time and attention to this matter. As always, I’m available by phone should any of you wish to discuss this in further detail. I also stand ready to help this board, our superintendent, law enforcement, and our administration as we continue this conversation.