Administration give passionate speeches on Day of Kindness

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Jeff Swadley, Cassville High School principal, talks to students about the severity of threats at the school and how inappropriate language, things a student may think is a joke, can lead to serious consequences. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Threat to Cassville High School delays assembly

Friday at Cassville High School was billed a Day of Kindness, where students were challenged to be kind to one another through notes, artwork, a positivity project and a moment of silence for the 17 killed in school shootings across the nation.

The day was planned to culminate in an assembly at 2 p.m. for students to discuss the mission of the day and the challenge the Day of Kindness organizers had for students. The assembly, however, was delayed about 20 minutes as school administration and local police were at the building assessing a threat made against the school.

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, put out a call through the district's automated system just after 2 p.m.

"We were notified about a report that involved a threat toward the high school," he said. "We are working with the city, county and state patrol in efforts to increase police presence around the high school. The police have found and are questioning one person of interest. All students are safe, and classes continue on regular schedules."

Asbill said district-wide, there have been 15-20 investigations into threats, some with no information, like a rumor of a social media post, and others leading to searches and the discovery of something like a pocket knife found.

"These past issues have included police references, and they either continue the investigation or refer it to the Juvenile Office, and we refer cases to the Juvenile Office as well when it is appropriate, considering the age of the student," Asbill said. "Eighty to 90 percent of the issues we've dealt with in the last month-and-a-half have been with juveniles, children under 17."

Shortly after Asbill's message was sent out, high school students were released for the planned assembly, gathering in the high school gym.

Vice Principal Keith Robertson spoke first, saying the past few weeks have been tough, trying times for administration.

"There have been multiple threats to specific people or the school in general, and inappropriate comments, what people think are jokes, being made about violence in the school," he said. "We have tried to address these things individually, counseling students to help them understand this is inappropriate. Unfortunately, we have not been successful."

Asbill said a good example of inappropriate language seen as a joke may be one student asking another, "Hey, are you packing today?" and the questioned student responding, "Yeah, it's right here in my backpack."

"Someone may overhear that and report it, and that's something we will investigate," Asbill said. "We also have a lot of students who participate in popular online games and having conversations involving using, gathering or planning things with different weapons. Others may overhear those conversations but not have the context and have a warranted concern. You can't make certain comments anymore. You have to be accountable about what you say."

One of the more popular games out currently is "Fortnite," an animated first-person shooter where 100 players drop onto an island together, then gather weapons and materials and battle until the last person is standing.

Robertson said punishments for threats and inappropriate comments have risen in recent months, from three days of in-school suspension in the beginning to a student now facing a 10-day out of school suspension, a district threat assessment and report to the Juvenile Office of city police.

"With the threat assessment, we look at things like access to weapons and a student's psychological state," he told the high schoolers. "Law enforcement goes to their homes and does searches, and this could eventually lead up to a 365-day suspension.

"We work hard to improve this school for you, but in the past two months, we have not been able to because we are devoting our attention to the threats of violence."

Jeff Swadley, Cassville principal, did not hold back in his remarks, asking if students understood now the gravity of these situations as police filed in and out updating officers standing with Swadley.

"I have never been more disappointed than I am today, in 24 years in education," he said. "We are better than this, and this does not reflect who you all are."

Swadley read some of the notes written by students at the elementary and intermediate schools.

"You all are role models to these kids," he said. "They want to grow up and be like you, band members, musicians, athletes. One of the notes says, 'I hope you can make a difference for someone today.' Another, written by a kindergartner, says, 'If you are being mean, say you are sorry because you could hurt someone really bad.' This one says, 'Be yourself, even if people don't like it.' And, a student in fourth grade says, 'Be a positive role model; you are my role models.'

"They are being taught these things like kindness and respect, and you all were taught it too. Somewhere down the line as we've grown up, we are forgetting about it."

Swadley said at that time, there were no less than 10 officers on the high school property, and students need to think more about what they say.

"You have to completely eliminate these words from your vocabulary," he said. "It's not a joke. The good news is, the threat today was not valid. But, the bad news is, we spent four hours making sure, and that's why we got started late here.

"There was a group of kids that approached me about doing this Day of Kindness, and if you want a great school, it starts with simple acts of kindness and respecting one another."

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