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OPINION: On Threatening Language

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

by BEN RICHARDSON - Get the facts. Prevent “panic mode”. You’re safe. I’ll prove it.

If I had a dollar for every time someone’s phone received a distracting Snap on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 5, I’d have at least fifty dollars. One dollar more than usual. Obviously, that meant something was wrong. Of course my hunch was correct—as it usually is—because that one extra Snap just happened to be none other than an image of threatening language graffitied onto a bathroom stall. Within minutes, a ripple effect of misinformation and rumors spread like a California wildfire, and it only took one student to receive one picture for chaos to gain a foothold. Some classmates began to contemplate drastic measures: calling parents to pick them up, pretending to be sick so they could leave early and not coming to school the next day.

Personally, I’m baffled by how dangerously soon information spreads in 2018 by means of Snapchat or anything else. Before all of the details are made known, information surfaces in its infancy, only revealing the tip of a much larger iceberg, as in the case of the threatening language on the bathroom stall. We humans don’t like to wait around for the rest of the iceberg to surface when a situation presents ambiguity. What do our minds do instead? They revert to pure speculation, and in a situation where ZERO facts were laid out, heaven only knew what students were thinking in the spur of the moment. When was the threat written? Who wrote the threat? I heard someone tell me it was so and so. Am I in immediate danger? Should I stay home tomorrow?

I want to stress one thing above all: our school investigated the issue, took care of the issue and publicly presented the details as promptly as humanly possible. All of us should have been aware of the school-wide email sent out that evening at precisely 7:36 p.m, which stated that authorities identified and reprimanded the perpetrator, and that the Westfield Police Department thoroughly investigated the situation.

Bingo. The iceberg finally surfaced. Even still, some students purposely stayed home on Dec. 6. A few students voiced a point that if it happened at Noblesville, why couldn't it happen here? I get it. Heck, those students aren’t outliers in this day in age in the slightest. Did you know that Safe and Sound Schools, a nonprofit formed by two Sandy Hook mothers, found that only half of students felt safe in school?

In writing this op-ed, my primary purpose is to inform you on just how safe we really are at Westfield High School. I did my research to prove it. After a sit-down meeting with our assistant principal Mrs. Alicia Denniston, who oversees safety at WHS, I learned tons of new information that put me at ease. One idea Mrs. Denniston mentioned really stuck with me.

“At the end of the day, we can’t give 100 percent certainty on safety, but we want to be able to say we’ve done everything we can,” Mrs. Denniston said.

And boy do we have our bases covered.

Every employee at school has been extensively trained in A.L.I.C.E protocol for the past five years straight. Each one received even more in-depth situational A.L.I.C.E experience over the summer.

We increased our partnership with the Westfield Police Department on the WHS campus. Officer Anuar Velazquez, who is bilingual and highly involved in our thriving Latino community, makes sure we’re safe in the hallways and main cafeteria. Westfield Police Department will add officer substations on campus for more police presence at large. Rest assured, the State of Indiana gives safety grants to keep officers paid, so they’re here to stay.

Mr. Jason Hemmerling introduced the idea of adding sturdy wooden plating over the middle window of classroom doors, which greatly reduces the risk of an intruder breaking the glass and getting to the door handle from the inside. The construction class even made a project out of it.

The front office adopted a brand new visitor management system called Safe Visitor, which was “built by professionals with decades of law enforcement, security, intelligence and military experience that integrates a comprehensive global background screening solutions to successfully screen all types of visitors to an organization….” according to their website.

Sounds state of the art, right?

On top of all that, many of you may not know about our student-operated WHS Safety and Security Team. Mrs. Tami Strack sends teams three times a day to check that all exterior and interior doors aren’t propped open. And if an adult is in the hallways without a badge, the team makes sure to address them. Each and every day they have a form to fill out and turn into Mr. Harris, our security officer.

When all is said and done, we can go to bed now—or school now— with peace of mind, knowing that WHS is going great distances to ensure that each and every member of our giant family stays safe. I was curious to find out if all of these new security improvements were implemented as a response to the recent threats and/or the Noblesville shooting. Rather, I was told that Noblesville actually catalyzed some ideas that have been in the works for quite some time. In retrospect, I hope the chaotic morning of Dec. 5 brought forth a lesson we can all take away: having patience and waiting for the whole iceberg to surface before jumping to conclusions prevents ignorance, panic and false speculation.

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