Dear PJHS Parents and Families,
In light of the recent board meeting and media reporting on a situation involving juveniles who attend Perrysburg Junior High School, we wanted to share as much information as we are legally permitted, as we shared in our statement on August 6, 2022 that may be accessed on our district webpage here.
Because the federal law, Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA), prohibits schools from disclosing student information, any information regarding student discipline and/or plans put in place specifically for a student is confidential. Unless the school is given written consent, the information cannot be shared with anyone but the student’s parent or guardian. This means school officials cannot answer questions about what the school district is doing regarding the students during the school day.
Please know that school and district officials have had many meetings and calls with all families directly involved with this matter beginning last spring and through this week. We have worked closely with these families to address each of their concerns.
Last week, school and district officials and its legal counsel had a meeting with the Wood County Prosecutor, Wood County Juvenile Prosecutor and the Wood County Probation Department supervisor and reviewed the school district’s plans for this school year based on the court order issued by the Wood County Juvenile Judge. The prosecutor’s office and probation department were made aware of the school district’s plan for before, during and after school and offered guidance.
Here are some important elements that we wish to share with you:
· The plea agreement stems from an event that occurred at a private residence (not at school) in November 2021.
· Perrysburg Police became aware when they were contacted by a community member in March 2022 and opened an investigation.
· School district officials learned through the police investigation that a video image was shown on school grounds by a student. The district investigated, took action and issued a public statement
on March 21, 2022.
· The plea agreement that generated the court order that the school is following was agreed to by all parties (accused, victims, and prosecutors) and approved by the judge.
· The plea agreement did not result in the juveniles pleading or being found guilty but entered “admissions.” In a statement to WTOL, Prosecutor Paul Dobson wrote:
“Both juveniles entered admissions to certain charges, some of them amended. As part of the agreement, some charges were dismissed. The court deferred an adjudication against the juveniles (essentially a finding of guilt) pursuant to a rule giving the judge the authority to do so, pending their compliance with orders the judge gave them which they must follow.”
· The school district had no role in developing the plea agreement, and was not informed of the terms of the court order until after the order was issued.
· The court orders were written in such a way that the juveniles would be permitted to return to school and participate in school-related activities as long as the juveniles complied with the court order.
Given the constraints of student privacy laws, the school district can inform the community of these facts:
· The school district had no authority to determine innocence or guilt in juvenile court cases.
· Communication between the school district, victims and accused, their parents, and their respective legal counsels have been ongoing since March.
· On Thursday, August 11, school district leaders with legal counsel held a meeting with the Wood County Juvenile Prosecutor Paul Dobson, Wood County Juvenile Prosecutor Chuck Bergman and Wood County Probation Supervisor Ronda Downard to review the school district’s proposed plan to ensure the safety of all students when the accused juveniles return to school in compliance with the court order.
· The meeting regarding the safety plans on August 11 discussed specific situations that may occur before, during and after school, including supervision of areas such as restrooms and locker rooms.
· For the protection of all students, PJHS staff members have been made aware of the plans.
· PJHS School Resource Officer Brad Dayton is in the school each and every day. He works closely with our students, families and the probation department and is a valued resource.
· In Ohio, students have the right to attend school in the school district where their parent or guardian resides. The School Board and administrators have very limited authority when it comes to denying students access to this legal right.
· In this case, the school district has not seen the evidence or been part of the court proceedings. With input from the victim and the prosecutor, it was the Court’s judgment that the two students could be returned to school without jeopardizing the safety of others.
These institutions’ role is to protect victims and the communities they serve. The school district trusts that if the judge and prosecutor felt that there was a viable threat to other students or individuals in the community, a different outcome would have occurred. For matters that occur outside school, it is up to the court system to determine if the student(s) can return to the school and if so, under what conditions.
The Court placed some restrictions on these two students’ activities whether at school or outside of school, such as limited and supervised access to the internet and no contact with the victims. The Court, in issuing these orders, considered what takes place during the school day and in co-curricular activities. The Wood County Probation Office works with school officials in implementing those orders.
I understand that this issue is troubling. For families who have children at PJHS, the question, “Will my child be safe at school?” is important. The answer is yes. The district and school have spent hours with staff members, county prosecutors and probation department staff members, and most importantly the families of those parties directly involved. I am proud of our staff members for the steps that they have taken to create a safe environment for all students, including those parties involved in this matter. As a superintendent for over 22 years, I have not had a situation quite like this where the plea agreement ultimately leaves the case open and if the juveniles successfully comply with the terms of the court orders, the case will be dropped. If the juveniles do not comply, then the Court may sentence the juveniles based on their admissions.
My growing concern is how this public debate will impact each of these students, their families and the school community. I know there may be some who read that line and ask, “Then why did the schools let the juveniles return to school?” My response is that we must defer to the judge, the prosecutor and those families who agreed to the terms of this plea agreement. Those individuals reviewed the evidence in this matter, and created and agreed to the terms that the schools are now following.
I hope that you, in turn, can trust us, your teachers, monitors, coaches and administrators to handle this situation with great care, compassion and vigilance. If you have concerns about what is happening in the school, please reach out to Mr. Buker. I understand that families want specific answers about each juvenile and their plan. Courts and schools are limited in what can be shared. But, please know that we work hard to ensure all students feel safe and secure each and every day.
I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed. I respect that there may be conversations forthcoming about why the courts made certain decisions, or whether the school district’s policies address these situations adequately. The Board Policy Committee will be reviewing all policies involved in this matter. How we conduct these conversations, with respect and dignity, keeping in mind what our students are reading and hearing, will ultimately define us as a community. I believe how we choose to have these conversations will ultimately define us as a community. My hope in embodying the Jacket Way, keeping in mind that our students are watching, is that these conversations can be had with respect and dignity.
Thomas L. Hosler