Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Officers called to West Middle School after student brought weapon to school; parent disputes account of incident

November 7, 2017, 10:25 a.m. Updated November 7, 2017, 5:02 p.m.

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Police were called to West Middle School on Friday after one student threatened another student with a utility knife, the Lawrence Police Department told the Journal-World. However, details of the incident remain hazy, with officials and one student’s parent providing different accounts of what happened.

Officers were dispatched to the school around 11:30 a.m. Friday regarding a report of “suspicious activity with weapons,” Lawrence Police Sgt. Amy Rhoads told the Journal-World. According to dispatch notes shared by Rhoads, there had been an altercation between two students that morning before school.

One student reportedly had a utility knife in his pocket during the encounter, though at no point did “anybody feel like their safety was in jeopardy,” Rhoads said.

“Police were basically called to help de-escalate the situation,” Rhoads said.

No crime was alleged, she said, and no police report was filed.

But the father of the student who had allegedly been threatened with the knife said this account differs significantly from what his child had told him. The man said his son had been threatened with the weapon on two separate occasions, starting with an incident after school Thursday in which another student first threatened his son with a box cutter and also hit him on the head several times.

On Friday morning, the father said, his son was threatened again with a knife, at which point he was called by school administration. As soon as he arrived, he said, administrators asked if he was going to press charges.

A West school resource officer visited with the man and his son later that day, he said. The father said he had not determined how he wanted to proceed at that time because he felt he needed to discuss the matter further with his son.

But by Tuesday afternoon, the father said, he had decided to file a formal police report. He said the police department’s assertion that the incident had been resolved with no one feeling threatened was inaccurate and that his son still feels uneasy about going to school.

The father also said he has since discussed the issue with school administration and an assistant district attorney. While he doesn’t want to point fingers at the other student involved, he does want kids to be held accountable. Part of that, he said, is educating students about the consequences of their actions.

“I wanted to know if there was a punishment or something public so that other kids would get the message of, ‘Besides the school policies on bullying, if you do something stupid, you have other things to worry about,’” the father said.

Parents were notified of the incident Friday afternoon via email by West Principal Brad Kempf. The message said that one student had “brought a dangerous object to school and used it in a threatening manner” and that police were called to the scene to investigate.

The email did not provide further details of the incident, however, including what the “dangerous object” was, and did not say whether administrators were taking any disciplinary action.

When asked Tuesday for additional information, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle provided the previously undisclosed detail that the armed student had “made a threatening comment while holding a box cutter with the blade retracted” in the Friday incident. Police dispatch notes, as relayed by Rhoads, said the knife had remained in the student’s pocket, however.

Although box cutters aren’t defined by the state as weapons, they do fit the Lawrence school board’s definition of “other dangerous objects,” Boyle said, which include any objects used in a threatening manner. According to school board policy, possession of such items on school property may result in penalties including suspension or even expulsion.

“The safety of all of our students and staff is our top priority at West. We need your help in this important endeavor,” Kempf said in his message to parents. “Please remind your student about items that are inappropriate for school. Encourage your child to report any safety concerns that they may have to a teacher or another adult at school.”

Kempf also encouraged parents to contact him with any safety concerns, stressing that creating “a safe learning environment for all students and staff” involves the help of parents, too.

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