Bethany Barnes has a long piece in The Oregonian that begins:
The worried father understood that when school officials said they were putting his teenager through a threat assessment, what they meant was “We think the next school shooter could be your son.”
Like almost every parent who sends a child to a school in America these days, Mark feared the next school shooting. He wanted to believe the school’s threat assessment system would help make sure Portland wasn’t the next Parkland.
So when a police officer came to his home without a warrant, Mark welcomed him inside. He handed over the family guns despite having no legal obligation to do so.
He told his nerdy, logical 16-year-old to be patient and remember what Spock from Star Trek always said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
As I read it, I became more and more disturbed by what the school was not revealing to the family. If FERPA is supposed to enable parents to inspect their child’s education records, why could these parents not find out more than the meager bits they had been told? Was it because these records had been called/tagged something other than education records? Isn’t a “threat assessment” actually a psychological/psychiatric/social work assessment conducted by school personnel or others designated as school officials for purposes of the assessment? Or are these somehow law enforcement records that are exempt from FERPA-mandated disclosure?
And how could it be that this whole months-long assessment could be triggered by something that the parents are not even allowed to see? As Barnes reports, if all the school had was one or two emails from people in the community, what if the catalyst for all this was simply bad information?
Mark had read, several times over, the email from the school district’s student services director, Michelle Markle, outlining what the school district was willing to say:
“We won’t share the actual email from the concerned parent with you. However, I can tell you the content mainly had to do with these two things:
– fascination, obsession with guns, knives, etc.”
So did the district assess the source of the information to determine whether they might have any grudge against the student and/or wish to cause trouble for the student? If all they had was an email (singular) from a “concerned parent,” how can that possibly be enough to justify such a lengthy and intensive invasion of the family’s and student’s privacy? Look at just some of what the student had to consent to to stay in school:
[The student] had to agree to be randomly searched at any time. He would also be under something called discreet supervision and need to check in and out with someone at the school each day.
Also, he couldn’t bring his [left-handed] scissors to school anymore.
A lot of the school’s distrust of the student seems to stem from two facts: (1) he liked to wear a heavy black coat that his family had given him, even when it was warm out, and (2) he is on the autism spectrum, and has the quirkiness and obsessive-compulsiveness often observed in youth and adults who have symptoms of ASD. It seemed to his father
that this system risked making a student who wasn’t violent, violent. What if this system created the very thing it was trying to prevent?
And I won’t tell you how this chapter of the student’s life ends. Read the whole news story. It’s long, but by the end of it, you will know who started the problems for the student, and how it all impacted the student and his family.
This is a tragedy born of schools understandably wanting to identify potential threats so as to keep the school community safe, but then not showing any sense of proportion or understanding of autism or kids who are a bit different.
It’s enough to make you cry.
I do not know if a sharp education lawyer could have helped this family fight what happened to their son. In today’s environment, I have little faith in the system. But it needs to be fought. Where was everyone else while this was going on? Why didn’t neighbors and teachers and the student’s friends stand up and say, “Whoa, you’re off base!” ?
What happened to this student is the exact opposite of what you hope schools will do with students with disabilities. And where is the consequence for the district? There will be none. We’d hear “qualified immunity,” I bet.
But it’s just all so very wrong.