Update on the Penn Brook Incident

Good morning.’First I want to thank you for the feedback on the post I put up on Wednesday night. While I completely understand the concern , especially in light of recent events in Florida , I want to explain a couple of things and hopefully this information will be helpful.

I apologize that this post was not sent out before now but, with the power outage on Thursday and Friday, the servers in the schools were down and the network was not available.  My access returned late yesterday afternoon and I also wanted to make sure I had time to construct a message that would be useful to you. While I know some people may still not be reassured that the school safe, I can assure you that it is.

The Police Chief and I have worked on a response to this alleged threat since we learned about it on Wednesday, March 7th and we are completely confident that the threat was not only not credible but that it was a rumor and did not happen. The Chief, who was responsible for conducting the investigation, released a press release on Facebook on Thursday ( they have a generator so he had power) and in case you missed that, it read” Late yesterday afternoon, it was reported to the Georgetown Police Department that a rumor was circulating among the Penn Brook Elementary School community that a specific student had made a threat to commit an act of violence at the school.  The Georgetown Police Department takes school safety very seriously and immediately conducted a thorough investigation.  The results of the investigation indicated that this was nothing more than a rumor and that no student had made a credible threat against the Penn Brook School, the students or any other school in Georgetown.  Similar rumors have circulated throughout the nation since the horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 including rumors at various schools throughout the area.  Please be rest assured that there is no threat to our schools, students or faculty and the schools are safe.  Out of an abundance of caution, I have continued to direct police officers to work security details outside of each school building through out the Georgetown School District.  Given the national climate and safety concerns, I feel that this is a prudent use of our resources.  The safety and well-being of our children always comes first. ”  Since the Police Department conducted the investigation, it is their responsibility to officially release the results and I hope this press release, in case you missed it on Facebook, helps to alleviate your concerns about the safety of your children coming to school on Monday.

Regarding the message you received on Wednesday night from me, I acknowledge the timing was difficult especially with the prediction of the storm and the expectation of a school closure, but honestly that was not on my mind, because I was focused on getting information to parents to quell the panic that was circulating among the school community.  I was very involved throughout the investigation and in constant communication with the Chief  and I sent it out the message as soon as I received confirmation from the Police Chief that there was no credible threat and the school was safe.   The Chief and I consulted on what could be included in the message and , while I realize now that it was not sufficient for many of you based on the information that was shared with me personally and/or from comments on Facebook, I thought it was important to get the information I could share out rather than wait until the next day for the Chief’s press release.  Right or wrong, my intention was to do the following: 1) confirm for parents that a threat was made because based on the number of phone calls and e-mails the Chief, Margaret and I received as students were arriving home, we perceived panic was becoming widespread, 2) that the school did not take this alleged threat lightly and the first call I made when I was informed about it (a student reported it to me personally, the Principal contacted me and several concerned parent contacted me by phone) was to contact the Police Chief who already knew about it and had deployed an officer to commence an investigation, 3) the result of the investigation as presented to me by the Chief was that there was no credible threat and 4) there was no danger to anyone at the school.  In hindsight, this seemed to escalated the level of concern,rather then quell the fears,  the degree to which I am surprised about because neither the Chief or I would ever put students back into the school  if there was the slightest chance that their safety could not be guaranteed.  I can assure you that it would never happen!  I do understand however that emotions were running high.

I have been asked why I did not send the message out personally and I  would like to explain that because I know in situations with high anxiety like this one, you want to hear the voice of the leader and someone you can trust.  Believe me when I tell you , that was my intention as well.  I tried  desperately to send out the voice message in my own voice but was unable after many tries to access the automated system from home . This  is usually not a problem but it was that night probably due to the storm. In that moment, again right or wrong, I decided to contact  Barry Belanger who  did have access and he promptly sent the message out on my behalf from his  home. I am grateful to him for being available and to Mike Anderson who was able to send the school cancellation notice out for me in the morning because I  had no power in my home.   Several people expressed concern that this indicated that I was avoiding the situation but I can tell you nothing could  be further from the truth.  It was a technical difficulty and that was the extent of it.

Many of the questions and concerns about my message involve the lack of specific details that were included. Whenever the police do an investigation for the schools, they follow a set of procedures and they inform me of the results. From the minute I inform them of the situation , it is no longer within my jurisdiction and I am not at liberty to discuss details because it is not my investigation. Since this situation involves juveniles, there is a higher threshold for privacy but any questions about the investigation itself are in the purview of the Police Department.   The Chief released a statement the following day that confirmed what I said in my message and he further confirmed that not only was it not credible as I said the night before, it was found to be a rumor and not a threat at all.  This is why we do investigations.  The reports are allegations until the are proved true or false and in this case the threat proved to be false. I can say with certainty,because I was in constant contact with the Chief as the investigation was done, that the officers did a thorough job of looking at physical evidence and interviewing involved and concerned parties and their conclusions are supported by the factual information.  They are the experts.  They do investigations for a living  and we are fortunate to have them working with us to ensure that our schools are safe.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this situation is the number of inaccurate facts that were shared through social media and seem to have exasperated this situation. I have been told that many people believe in that in the  absence of facts coming from the school district or the police , that people feel they have to resort to social media to get the facts. I would offer that this is not always a helpful strategy because much of what is shared is based on rumors, personal experience, opinions  and or/inaccuracies and some are even mean-spirited and cross the lines of violating people’s rights. I find it troubling that many of the comments are targeting a student who is not guilty of what he is accused in this situation yet it appears that he was found guilty in the public’s eyes.  I would not like that done to my child and I suspect no one else would as well. I respectfully ask that people resist disparaging specific or any children in a public forum and bring your concerns to me or the administration at the school if they affect your child. My intention is not to point any fingers or aggravate the situation because I know that fear drives decisions and that actions are out of concern for the safety of your children.  I just ask you to wait for the facts and not target specific children and their families in your posts. We may never be able to answer all of your questions because the law prohibits it or it violates the protocols but I promise you that we will share the facts that we are able to in a timely fashion. In this case, that information was conveyed within two days of the incident. We will be meeting to discuss a protocol that will be used in the future  regarding communication with the public about incidents such as this in the future.

As the Chief indicated in his press release, school safety is our top priority.  I am pleased to say that we have worked together for over 10 years, along with the School Committee , to put safety procedures in place.  With the most recent shooting in Parkland, it gives us a chance to reflect on our current safety and security plans. Even though we meet monthly as a safety team within the district with the police and fire officials, there are lessons to be learned with each of these honorific events  when they occur. Over February break , I met with Police Chief Cudmore, Fire Chief Mitchell, Lieutenant Hatch, Town Administrator Mike Farrell, and the Director of Buildings and Grounds for the schools Mike Anderson to review our current plans. In the process, we agreed to an enhanced security plan that has been approved and  reviewed by the School Committee.  We are currently finalizing those plans and were in the process of inviting the public to a community meeting on the topic of school safety where we would discuss this topic before this incident occurred.  Due to the timing of the incident on Wednesday, we have scheduled that meeting for Monday, March 19th from 6:30 -8:00 PM in the Middle High School Auditorium where we can debrief this situation and discuss the results of the safety meeting that was held over February break.  We all share the same goals for school safety and we are on the same team. Chief Cudmore and several of his officers will join me at this community meeting as will Margaret Maher and Mike Anderson. I look forward to a productive discussion on March 19th.

I hope  the information that is now available will be enough for parents and students to feel safe returning to school on Monday.  Chief Cudmore will provide police details as he mentioned in his press release not because there is a threat but because he wants to reassure the public and any students who might be worried. The school administration is meeting with the staff early Monday morning to discuss the ways they can help students feel safer and the resources in the guidance staff  that are available should students need even more support.

The school administration and I are willing to speak to anyone, parent or student, who continues to be concerned. I have answered every e-mail and phone call that I have received to date and am willing to continue to speak to anyone else until every concern is heard.  Don’t hesitate to contact me at jacobsc@georgetown.k12.ma.us or in the office at 978-352-5777 at extension 140 ( voicemail) or 142  (administrative assistant).  I ask that you do not contact me on my personal cell phone but you have my word that  I will return your call or e-mail as soon as possible because I know this is a priority for you.

I am sincerely sorry for any of the confusion or concern I might have inadvertently caused .  While every incident is an opportunity for personal reflection, I remain resolved to do anything necessary to protect your children’s safety, to communicate promptly to the community with the facts available and to work together with public safety officials to ensure that this can happen.   I  hope to see you on March 19th. Enjoy the rest of the weekend and don’t hesitate to contact me.