Information Regarding Threatening Incidents in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Community
The Wallingford-Swarthmore School District hosted a community meeting on January 2, 2019 to provide information about threatening incidents that occurred in the school community prior to the 2018 holiday break, and the student walkout and unrest that ensued.
The panel of speakers included Nether Providence Police Chief David Splain, School District Solicitor Mr. Kyle Berman, Strath Haven High School Principal Dr. Kristopher Brown, Media branch NAACP President Mr. James Mason, and NAACP State Conference President Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn.
Each speaker addressed the series of events from their perspective, providing information on:
- the timeline of events and police investigation;
- the district’s authority and ability (or lack thereof) to discipline students depending on when/where incidents occur;
- Strath Haven High School’s plan to address the issue, including how to improve school climate;
- ways in which organizations like the NAACP and the Department of Justice can help the community heal and move forward
Because the incidents are being actively investigated by the Delaware County District Attorney’s office, police and the school district were both limited in how much information they could provide.
Many have said they’d like to know how the students connected with the incidents will be disciplined by the school. As a public school district, Wallingford-Swarthmore is limited by what the school code allows. It must also adhere to privacy laws which means the district may not disclose specifics about discipline that students receive.
The district has said publicly several times – and has emphasized to students – that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Nor will harassment, threatening, or bullying of students – in retaliation, or for any other reason.
The school district is focusing efforts on ensuring the school environment is inclusive, respectful, and civil.
Click here to view January 2 meeting
Click here for Dr. Palmer’s opening and closing comments
Click here for Chief Splain’s timeline summary
Click here for Mr. Berman’s summary on district authority
Click here for Dr. Brown’s comments
Click here for a summary of Mr. Mason’s comments
Click here for a summary of Dr. Duvall-Flynn’s comments
Questions & Answers
Q: I understand that the school district has limited jurisdiction over actions outside of school, but do we have a code of conduct and expectations of our students at all times?
A: In school, the District teaches lessons on socially acceptable behavior and society’s expectations, and we have a code of conduct that we hope students will follow at all times. But as with all public school districts, the District’s authority and jurisdiction are statutorily given and include explicit limits. So, if a student violates that code of conduct at a time or place or under circumstances where the laws do not give us authority to take action, we must leave any discipline to the student’s parents or the police.
Q: If the District is no longer responsible or was never responsible for their actions, then what has the police/District Attorney done to assure us that they won’t do something else?
A. The matter is being investigated by the Delaware County District Attorney’s office, which now has sole authority of the case. We anticipate they will make an announcement about the investigation when it’s completed. All further questions about it should be directed to them.
Q: Will the results/consequences of the investigation be made available to the public? Things like possible legal punishment?
A: This will be up to the Delaware County District Attorney.
Q: What is the approximate time frame for completion of the District Attorney’s investigation?
A: The District Attorney has not given us a time frame and that question should be directed to her office.
Q: What is the District doing to modify and assess curriculum and teaching practices so that we are addressing racism and not perpetuating it in the classroom?
A: Cultural competency and race relations are prominent themes in many of our courses K-12 where students are taught to value varying perspectives and cultures, engage in discourse surrounding the nuances of being part of a local, national, and world community. In addition to the core curriculum, we run programs that honor, celebrate, and create awareness of diversity in our schools and the appropriate civil responses to varying perspectives. In addition, the District is working with the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League to access their classroom resources on these issues.
Q: What is being done, or being planned, to help combat the kind of attitudes and bigotry at the elementary level?
A: Again, our efforts are focused from kindergarten through 12th grade. Many of our classroom and schoolwide activities discuss diversity and inclusion in age-appropriate ways, and we honor and celebrate many different cultures.
Q: Why are these students allowed to return to school without determining whether they are a threat to themselves or the rest of the student body?
A: Because of the circumstances of this case, the police and other law enforcement authorities must determine whether there is evidence to support a psychological evaluation. However, the District is mindful of its obligations and continues to take measures to ensure the safety of its students in school.
Q: Were the students who drew swastikas at SRS last year identified? Any consequences?
A: On a weekend two years ago, graffiti with hateful speech was written on the wooden tree fort at SRS (AKA Sparrow House). We immediately reported the incident to Swarthmore Borough Police. No suspect was identified. We don’t know whether the perpetrator was a student or an adult.
Q: Has the District engaged a PR or crisis management consultant?
A: The District works proactively with a public relations firm that specializes in public schools and has experience in situations similar to the one we’re facing. They have been assisting us in dealing with these recent issues.
Q: In what ways can parents and community members be included in the training and civility programs that will be implemented in the schools?
A: We already have a variety of programs in our schools, and Dr. Brown indicated that he was looking into additional programs that will strengthen our school community. Please contact your child’s principal for more information on how you can be involved.
Q: What is the plan to make minority members of the school community feel safe?
A: In the short-term, Dr. Brown met with students (including minority students) on Thursday, 12/20, and they expressed some concerns. Following that meeting, he asked teachers and counselors to identify students about whom they had concerns or who had expressed specific concerns regarding safety and school climate. In the days that followed, he met individually with many students from that list to begin to hear their concerns and work on resolving them. During and since this time, students have had increased access to their counselors as well as access to a Nether Providence Police officer.
In addition, we have and continue to meet with area consultants who specialize in the areas of student leadership as well as diversity and inclusion. We have had two focus groups of minority students meet with one of these resource groups to begin a customized proposal for working with our students. We continue to try to support our minority students by responding to their needs.
We plan to use a school climate survey that will give us more specific data from students and teachers so that we can continue to make sure that we are taking the right steps to meet the needs of our students.
Q: Can you please provide contact information for both NAACP members present last night?
Q: How will members of the task force mentioned at the meeting be selected?
A: The task force has not yet been established. More information will be forthcoming, and will come from local elected officials. We will do our best to notify our community, as well.
Q: What kind of training will the students in question will receive? Whether or not there are any legal ramifications to their actions (and I hope there are), what is going to be done to ensure that they will receive the help they obviously, desperately need to understand how insensitive, inappropriate, cruel and unacceptable their actions were?
A: The School District has no authority to implement any “special” training for these students beyond what every student participates in. However, if students ultimately face criminal charges, a judge may have the authority to mandate additional training.