Dear Families, Employees and Community Leaders,
The Perrysburg Schools leadership team would like to follow-up on the investigation of the threat made at Perrysburg High School (PHS) on Thursday, April 15. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience as this issue was investigated and moved into the legal system. The purpose of this letter is to provide final information about the matter from the school district’s perspective, answer some of the questions that we have received and discuss the school district’s next steps relative to student and employee safety.
I would like to begin by addressing some rumors that are currently circulating. The Perrysburg Police Department is confident through their investigation and with the cooperation of some of the students and their families that there are no other participants. No additional threats have been made since the first and only threat that was made on April 15. Though there is no ongoing threat to safety at our schools, Perrysburg Police and Perrysburg Schools have heightened awareness in the school district because of these unconfirmed rumors and out of an abundance of caution.
The idea that discussions, as communicated earlier in the week, were taking place and that may have led to steps to harm students and employees is frightening. In a time when mass shootings are all too common, there is little comfort. However, what happened in Perrysburg to discover and prevent further planning was a success. From the heroic actions taken by the student who reported the threat, to having a climate in the building of trust, the response of school leaders to investigate and follow up and the actions of our skilled School Resource Office, all aspects of our safety plan worked exactly as intended. Today, I am writing to you about the discovery of preliminary planning and not something worse. As we review the information available to us, examine our steps and look for ways as to how we could have been even more proactive in our discovery, we are committed to taking those steps necessary to learn, strengthen our practices and look for ways to improve our response and overall student and employee safety. We recognize there is more work to be done.
We would like to honor the courageous act by the PHS student who reported this threat. To be brave enough to report something that a classmate said that did not sound right is not easy. The United States Secret Service 2021 Analysis of Plots Against Schools, an annual report, examined 67 averted school attacks and concluded that, “Students are best positioned to identify and report concerning behaviors displayed by their classmates.” This was true in our case and we are so grateful for this action. It is important for families to discuss how important this is for students who see something to say something.
Also, the fact that there is a culture in our schools where students feel comfortable sharing this kind of information with school leaders is significant. In the same United States Secret Service report, they write: “Unfortunately, many cases also involved students observing concerning behaviors and communications without reporting them, highlighting the ongoing need for further resources and training for students.”
School leaders heard the concern and took action, including a threat assessment process. Based on the concern, the school resource office (SRO) immediately interviewed the witness and then engaged the student who made the comment. Within hours of the student sharing the concern with school leaders, the student who made the comment was in the Wood County Juvenile Detention Center.
Next month, PHS leaders will present at our regular School Board Meeting more information about the threat assessment process. In 2017, using funds from Sandy Hook Promise, Perrysburg Schools hosted a regional training. The Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines, used by the school district, are listed in the federal government’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). These guidelines allow school-based teams to evaluate student threats of violence, quickly resolve less serious transient threats and take appropriate action in response to more serious, substantive threats. School teams here consist of school administrators, mental health professionals (counselors, psychologists, social workers) and law enforcement officers. Thousands of schools in more than 20 states have received training. The guidelines have been evaluated in two field-test studies and five controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
During the PHS threat assessment team’s process, more information was discovered on the student’s computer hard drive, in the student’s browser history and in the student’s email account. These discoveries led the SRO to another student and, from there, two others. By Monday evening, two additional Perrysburg High School students were taken to the Wood County Juvenile Detention Center. The fourth student from another school district was questioned and not taken into custody based on the evidence. It was also learned that the students communicated via the gaming app Discord, which bypassed school filters and emails.
Again, the Perrysburg Police Department is confident through their investigation and with the cooperation of some of the students and their families that there were no other participants. The investigation uncovered what appears to have been preliminary planning going on between the students with investigators believing the students’ goal may have been to do possible harm to others in the school.
During an active investigation, the school district works closely with our law enforcement partners, in this case, the Perrysburg Police Department. The school district and the department over the last decade have forged a very close working relationship. Continual training and drills, active shooter (ALICE) training, crisis tabletop exercises, monthly district safety meetings and the addition of an SRO are a few of the joint activities taking place regularly between the schools and police department. There is openness, respect and constant communication between officers, police leadership and school officials.
When a serious incident involving students occurs, there are challenges with what can be communicated and when. When the police are conducting an investigation, the school district cannot communicate about what is occurring, other than if required for the safety of students and employees, if it may impede the police investigation. When the schools communicate, it is done so in conjunction with the police. The statement and timing of any release is coordinated to avoid interfering with their work. The federal law Family Educational Right to Privacy Act, or FERPA, prohibits schools from disclosing student records.
The reality is that threats happen. Working with students and building relationships so that when they see or hear something, they say something, along with having a good relationship with the police department and having a School Resource Officer stationed at our high school every day were key in this situation. Additionally, we have a threat assessment protocol that is conducted by a skilled team. All of these factors led to being able to dig deep enough to find, contain and address this threat.
We have been fielding calls for getting metal detectors, security/monitoring software, etc., and while we will continue to explore improving those types of safety measures, continuing our efforts to train students to say something if they see or hear something, training staff to be observant of changes in students and having a team approach to assess threats is the best approach, what we have been doing and will continue to do as we move forward. The vulnerability assessment we had already planned to conduct school district-wide next school year will be another step towards recalibrating our safety efforts.
Thank you for all you are doing to keep our community safe, and stay tuned for additional communication on this topic.
Thomas L. Hosler