Unreported threats at Arlington elementary draw ire of parents

Timeliness and apparent discrepancies in security policies sound alarms after three threat incidents

  • J.L. Hill Elementary - Parents upset over threats of gun violence (Photo: Zack Maxwell / Arlington Voice)
    Parents of students attending J.L. Hill Elementary in Arlington are upset after threats of gun violence went unreported to police (Photo: Zack Maxwell / Arlington Voice)
Ken Costlow

With the number of on-campus weapon incidents growing in the country, the sense of vulnerability is at an all-time high among parents with children in public schools.

And while it is in no way comparable in severity to what happened recently in Florida and Maryland, a series of occurrences at an Arlington elementary are bringing the emotions closer to home.

Three alleged incidents of threats made by students at J.L. Hill Elementary in West Central Arlington have stirred up a controversy online and left many parents wondering if police were notified and, if so, who notified them and when.

According to a post in a Facebook group called Arlington Coalition for Excellence in Education, two of the threats were made by a student who bragged about having an AR-15 weapon at home.

The first incident occurred last November and was reported to the assistant principal at the school. Then, two weeks ago, the same student allegedly described the rifle and threatened to bring it to school.

The second episode was reported to both the principal and assistant principal, but Arlington police were never notified.

The following Monday, a parent who learned of the incident called police after they felt no action had been taken by the District.

The next day, police officers came to the school and questioned several students about the incidents and gathered enough information to make a probable cause search of the juvenile’s home, where the rifle was found.

The juvenile was taken into custody on April 3 on a charge of making a terroristic threat, but was subsequently released and disciplined by the school in accordance with the District's Student Code of Conduct.

On a separate occasion, another student allegedly threatened a classmate with what turned out to be a small pocket knife, and was subsequently disciplined.

Hill parents with which the Arlington Voice spoke are upset because they say they only found out about these occurrences through Facebook instead of hearing about it from the Hill administrators.

In a communiqué sent to parents Tuesday, April 10, Hill Principal Melinda Schweig admitted that the threats had occurred, plus a separate incident in which a male adult had approached two students and asked them some questions. The latter incident was reported to police.

The communiqué sent by Hill Elementary Principal Melinda Schweig to parents detailing the two security incidents. (Photo: Arlington ISD)

“I’m disappointed in the lack of accountability and transparency of the school administrators in this situation,” one parent that wished to remain anonymous told the Arlington Voice. “A robo-call went out from (Schweig) last night about 8:45 [and] my husband got it, but not me. It said that a stranger approached two kids walking home and was asking questions and the kids reported it.

“So a call about that went out, but not a threat regarding a weapon?”

The parent said she was most upset that another parent had to contact police about the threats, instead of school administrators. She added that she had considered keeping her child home from school this week.

Another parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity said she felt the Hill administrators failed the parents for not reporting the first violations to police.

She said she had spoken to both Schweig and Assistant Superintendent of Administration Michael Hill, but was dissatisfied with their responses.

“It is (Schweig’s) job to call the police when incidents like this happen, and Hill finally admitted that she did not,” the second parent said. “I think something has to change in the school’s policy about this. Maybe security gates at all schools? I don’t know.

“I do know that you have to go through security gates at airports and museums, but we can’t protect our own children at our schools? We, as parents, need and deserve some peace of mind.”

In a separate Facebook page that is available to only Hill Elementary school administrators, staff, parents and guardians, a thread about the incidents was apparently deleted, along with comments from parents airing their concerns.

District Communications Director Leslie Johnston outlined the AISD's policy about dealing with threats from students of all ages and grade levels, citing that all threats – whether written on school property, posted online or verbalized to others – are immediately and thoroughly investigated.

Johnston said anyone involved in making a threat faces disciplinary action in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct, and could face serious legal consequences from police.

The response does vary depending on the age and grade of the student or students, the credibility of the threat and the investigation into the threat, she said. School administrators are required to fill out and file paperwork in each case.

“We have daily security measures and campus plans in place for emergency situations,” Johnston said. “Emergency plans include procedures for an intruder on campus, lockdowns and emergency drills.

“We regularly monitor our practices and procedures in collaboration with law enforcement, our security department and our administrators, and make adjustments as needed. Reporting, forms and disciplinary procedures vary depending on the incident.”

Johnston did confirm that the school administrators at Hill did not contact the Arlington police about the incidents with the AR-15. But due to federal confidentiality restrictions, she could not elaborate on specific details as to why the police were not contacted.

However, she did say that, after a thorough search, no weapons were found on the Hill campus, and that school administrators did cooperate with police during their investigation of the matter.

Due to District policy, Schweig and other school administrators at Hill were unavailable for comment.

Arlington School Board Trustee John Hibbs did express some personal concerns about clarifying any discrepancies that may exist in the District's policies about protocol in contacting the police.

"Any changes or reviews that need to be made in policies are always ongoing," Hibbs said. "We are in constant contact with the Texas Association of School Boards in reviewing and updating our policies throughout the year.

"I think the most important thing we need to do is remain vigilant and report anything that could be deemed an imminent threat or danger to the proper authorities. Dialing 9-1-1 or Crimestoppers helps us practice good awareness on our campuses."