From The Tribune staff reports
TRUSSVILLE — Trussville City Schools Board of Education Vice President Kim DeShazo released a statement 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 TCS family,
“It is important for every citizen in our city, and particularly every parent who has a child in our system, to be kept up to date with any issue that may affect our students and schools. As the Vice President of the Trussville Board of Education, I want to address two separate but related issues that have come up in the past week.
“Important issues have been raised pertaining to communication between the school system and parents, which I will address in just a bit. But I also want to directly address issues regarding the notebook that has been the focus of media coverage and recent meetings.
“Here are the facts as I understand them: In October 2021, a teacher at Hewitt-Trussville High School found a notebook left behind by a student. The teacher discovered the book had names in it: some names were of other students and some names were not. The notebook also contained ways in which these people were allegedly going to die. Many of those ways were outlandish: death by ants, for instance. However, one of those methods was by an AK-47. The teacher followed procedures and presented the notebook to one of the school counselors, who also followed procedures and presented it to Principal Salem. The counselor and Mr. Salem brought the student in and interviewed him. During the interview, the student explained to Mr. Salem and the counselor that the notebook was based on a Japanese anime show called “Death Notebook.” The student claimed the notebook was pure fantasy and stated that some students had actually written their own names in the notebook.
“Regardless, based on the memorandum of understanding between Trussville City Schools and the Trussville Police Department, as well as our high school code of conduct, Mr. Salem should have presented information about the notebook to the school resource officer — a member of our city police department — so he could conduct his own investigation. Unfortunately, Mr. Salem did not follow that protocol and instead simply confiscated the notebook and chose to monitor the student’s behavior for the remainder of the school year. Mr. Salem did not inform the school resource officer, the student’s parents, the parents of the students’ whose names were listed in the notebook, or school system leadership. I know this because I asked him. I did not rely on information from any other source. He has commendably accepted responsibility for this error. Principals deal with discipline issues every day – anything from unauthorized absences, to academic misconduct, disrespectful conduct, even fist fights in the hallways — and we trust that disciplinary decisions are fair and warranted, based on the information available at the time. In this situation, though, a mistake was clearly made, and I appreciate Mr. Salem accepting responsibility for not sharing this disturbing information last year with the appropriate authorities.
“The student went the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year with no further incidents or disciplinary issues. On September 16, 2022, however, a counselor was informed this student had made verbal threats about shooting up the school with a bow and arrow. Within a few minutes of learning of this alleged threat, Mr. Salem informed the student resource officer and Trussville Police Department of the situation. He then informed authorities for the first time of the previous year’s incident involving the notebook. The Trussville Police Department took it from there and conducted a home search, interviewed the student and his parents and began informing the parents of HTHS students whose names were included in the notebook. While it was determined that no criminal charges would be brought against this student, he has been placed in the alternative learning center. Board members were first informed of this situation – including facts about the notebook and allegations of harassment – on September 21, 2022. This, too, is unacceptable. Since that time, I have participated in several meetings and conference calls with Dr. Neill, Mayor Choat, Chief Rush, city council members and Mr. Salem. I can tell you that hard questions have been asked and difficult conversations have been had over the last few days, and there will be more in the days to come. We understand this is a very serious situation. Our immediate goal is to understand the facts so that we can correct these issues, make sure proper procedures are in place to protect our students and schools, and keep our important stakeholders informed. As to the complaints about communication: Parents, we hear you. I have three kids in the Trussville school system, including one at the high school. I understand your frustration, disappointment, and fear. I am so grateful that we are discussing these issues today instead of after some tragic event. There is nothing we can do to change the events of October 2021 or since. What we can do is learn from the mistakes and prevent them from ever happening again. I am committed to that and will do everything I can to ensure that our kids remain safe in Trussville City Schools and our families are treated with honesty and respect.
“The communications issues that have surfaced are not something that I can resolve in one letter. I commit to you there will be an overhaul of how information is shared with parents, the public and the media. We as a board are committed to starting from scratch to improve communication and create a culture of openness. At our upcoming board meeting on October 17, safety will be our first agenda item, and communication will be the second. We will use the time between now and then to develop new procedures to create avenues for communication between the board, administration, faculty, parents and citizens. This will involve input from staff, parents, faculty, administrators and outside sources.
“It is important for you and the entire TCS family to know that our board takes this situation seriously and is moving quickly to address procedures or leadership failures that led to these problems. It is imperative that you have confidence in the leadership who guides our system on a day to day basis. We have received, as you can imagine, significant input about what has happened and what needs to be done in the future. Please know that your board will address these issues head on and make decisions based on what is best for our students, system and city. We will continue this process with a special called meeting of our board on Friday morning at 8 a.m. and we encourage all citizens to participate in person or by social media to get the facts and be part of this process moving forward.
“While this has been a trying and difficult time for our community, it is important to remember that here are so many positives about our schools and our students. We have much to be grateful for. We are among the top-performing school districts in Alabama, both academically and athletically. Our state test scores are outstanding each year, and our students benefit from award-winning band programs, clubs and extra-curricular programs. We have a state-of-the-art football stadium, and we are working toward a master plan of enhancements for all sports. Our character education program promotes kindness and good sportsmanship, while creating a warm, welcoming environment during class. We have seven highly trained school resources officers in five different schools working hard every day to protect our children. They are doing a great job, and we appreciate them. But as a system, we can always find room for improvement, and we will.
“I love Trussville. I moved here 16 years ago, and my husband and I chose to live here and raise our kids here. My children have had a great experience with Trussville City Schools – perfect, no. But no organization is perfect. I am proud to be a part of Trussville City Schools. As a parent, I am disappointed in these recent incidents – just as I am sure you are. As a board member, I am focused on understanding any problems that exist and fixing them so we can move forward. Our children and our city deserve no less. We will do this in the coming days, weeks and months.
“Thank you for your support for our students, teachers and others who make up our school system. Know that we are committed as a system to doing everything in our power to merit your support and your trust.
Trussville City Schools Board of Education”