The Monday evening Town Hall meeting provided an open forum for the Clinton community to both hear about, and respond to, the events surrounding the lock down of the Clinton schools the previous Wednesday.
The 6 p.m. meeting, held in the school auditorium, was attended by roughly 65 adults, some with children. There, after an introduction by Mayor Richard McCormac, area law enforcement heads Chief of Police John Willoughby and Sheriff Randy Gurley, along with School Resource Officer David Hess, joined with Clinton School Superintendent Andrew Vining, gave a timeline of events leading up to the lockdown decision.
The response, as laid out by the group, was that the call from the F.B.I. (see related article) was of a “not credible threat” from a woman accusing a man of having made a threat against the school the previous November. As law enforcement planned its response, Vining made the decision that morning as school buses arrived to place the school on lock down.
After the decision was made, confusion in the community, at times fanned by social media interaction, notably Facebook posts and responses, created harsh feelings toward the school district, and Vining specifically.
After the timeline presentation the floor was opened for questions and statements by those attending.
One charge, made on social media and repeated by a concerned parent that night, was that the school district especially - the accusation leveled at Vining - with law enforcement, were using children as bait in order to catch the person who threatened the school.
Willoughby, from the stage, especially expressed resentment to this charge. Gurley and Willoughby both pointed out that all officers from all departments who had children in school had them go to school that morning, the same as any other day.
The who knew and who did not about the threat was a concern of multiple parents. At one point a speaker drew an analogy of the knowing and not knowing as between the elites who knew about the threat, and the “peasants,” who did not. This drew applause.
Vining explained that when the threat became know, some school staff were told of it in order for them to do tasks assigned to them under such circumstance. This, unwittingly, led to some staff members making the decision to keep their children out of school that day, which was not the intent of the notification, Vining said.
“Nobody was told to keep their child home that day,” Vining said.
The school board was also told of the threat, some of whom also chose not to send their children to school that day, Vining said. This, also, was not the intent of the notification.
The knowing / not-knowing was brought up several times that evening. By crowd response it was the biggest concern of the gathering. Vining admitted the communication after the threat was made known was not handled well.
Communications problems were brought up in the post-lock down debrief Wednesday morning.
Vining said a staff member has now been assigned the specific task of reporting to his office in an emergency like this, getting the information and broadcasting the notice of what was taking place and why.
Hess explained to the crow that the emergency plan had been in place since 2013 and had not been updated since then, despite personnel changes which had taken place since the plan had been drawn up. Plans, in light of the event, were in place to both update the plan and refine the notification protocols.
A Preparedness Committee had been formed in order to update and refine the plan, Hess said.
Vining, as the questions and responses from the audience continued, fielded most of them.
Another concern expressed was the fact that school was left open then day. As one parent pointed out, no snow days had been used at that point, why didn’t the school just shut down?
“We could have sacrificed one day,” the parent, a mother, said.
This, also, drew applause from the audience.
The response was based on the threat being “not credible” Vining said (law enforcement nodding in agreement). When the decision was made at 7:15 to go on lock down, however, buses were already enroute.
Existing protocols were such that once students were on the way to school, the safest place for them to be was in school, in classrooms, Vining said. Hence the lockdown had children arrive for school and taken to classrooms. This was also the reason (more implied here than directly stated) that students enroute were not sent to other facilities, such as area churches as might take place during a bomb threat when the building was threatened.
Several parents pointed out that some students were outside, despite there being a lockdown, and others were in a public space. Vining admitted, with Hess agreeing, that this reflected a need to refine the existing lock down plan to avoid this mistake in the future.
The lockdown, Vining explained in response to a question, as a “partial” lockdown, as opposed to the “full lock down” used when an active shooter was on campus. Hess was in agreement here as well.
As response from the audience continued, a number of parents came forth to state, at times passionately, the Vining needed to be fired. This continued, at times repeating statements made on social media, leading up to one man stating that if the school board would not fire Vining, the citizens of Clinton needed to impeach him from his role as school superintendent.
Several in attendance asked about the next school board meeting, scheduled for this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.