Collier Superintendent Patton addresses safety concerns, delayed communication
Watch a Facebook Live recording from Feb. 22, 2018 of Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton calling a meeting to address school safety concerns in the wake of numerous threats to Collier schools.
Collier County Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton addressed concerns about school safety Thursday amid worry about violent threats that have circulated online and by word-of-mouth in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has investigated at least 10 reports of threats to schools between Feb. 15 and 19. Threats were made to Barron Collier High, Palmetto Ridge High, Golden Gate High, Immokalee Middle, Corkscrew Middle, North Naples Middle and Pine Ridge Middle schools, reports show.
Two students were arrested this week after the Sheriff's Office said they brought knives to school. One of the students also had disturbing drawings and messages in his backpack, investigators said. On Wednesday a Barron Collier student was arrested in connection with an email threatening a teacher.
Three more students were taken into protective custody this week after others reported they made alarming comments.
The Sheriff’s Office stated it has received more threats since Monday, but those reports have not yet been released.
The Naples Police Department and Marco Island Police Department advised they had not received any reports of threats to schools since Feb. 14.
Patton released a video on Collier Schools’ social media channels Wednesday evening and held a brief news conference Thursday to address safety concerns that have arisen since the Parkland shooting. Patton rarely holds news conferences; the last time she did so was to address Hurricane Irma.
At the news conference, Patton referenced the whirlwind of rumors that circulated Wednesday that there would be a Collier school shooting. The threats caused panic among students and parents, many of whom decided to pick their children up shortly after dropping them off.
Patton urged the public to refrain from spreading inaccurate information and reinforced the message of the district’s new Keep Collier Safe initiative: “Don’t spread it. Report it.”
She warned that students who make threats at home, at school or on social media can be arrested, removed from school and banned from Collier County campuses.
“Think about your future,” she said.
Some have criticized the district for not disseminating information about threats quickly enough. For example, the district waited a week to inform parents after learning on Feb. 1 that a Barron Collier student had written a hit list, shooting plan and suicide note. Sheriff's Office investigators later found the threat to be not credible.
The district declined to say whether the student had been disciplined until Sunday. That day an email was sent to parents stating all students under investigation had been removed. The district also declined to specify whether the student was suspended, expelled or moved to another school.
“I was really mad when that came to light,” said Barron Collier parent Trina Goldman. “It’s hard to have faith in the superintendent if we’re being left out of the loop. You can say safety is your top priority, but you have to prove it.”
Many other district parents, including Christina McKellar, whose children attend Vineyards Elementary, have expressed similar frustrations.
“We’re expected to trust them with our children, but any time something happens it’s quietly dealt with,” she said. “They’re our children. We should know what’s going on.”
When asked to respond to parents who have expressed concerns about delays in communication relating to school threats, Patton said the district cannot release information during active investigations.
“When we are able to say something about it, we do,” she said.
Had any of the recent threats been credible, she said, schools would have gone into lockdown mode.
Other parents said they’re satisfied with how the district has handled recent events.
Denise Murphy, a parent with children at Naples High, Palmetto Ridge High and East Naples Middle, said she’s more than satisfied with recent communications relating to safety. She said she’s received daily emailed updates from her children’s principals and from the district.
“I think CCPS is doing a phenomenal job,” she said.
In an email sent to parents Wednesday, Naples High School Principal Darren Burkett said he would address student safety concerns at grade level assemblies Thursday. Burkett also said the administration would be available to students at a series of lunchtime forums.
Collier schools spokesman Greg Turchetta did not immediately know if other schools were planning similar meetings.
In a series of emails sent to parents since the Parkland shooting, Patton has reassured that increased security precautions were being taken. The emails state there would be increased law enforcement visibility at all schools in the county.
The Sheriff's Office declined to state how many extra deputies were in position, noting the information was “tactical.”
At Thursday’s news conference, Patton urged parents to update their contact information in the online parent portal so they can receive emergency updates. Should a concern arise, she said, parents can call their child's school to receive information or check collierschools.com.
Asked to share her thoughts about President Donald Trump’s push to have armed faculty in schools, Patton said: “In Collier County we’re very fortunate that we have sheriffs that are armed and that are trained. ... There’s a lot that go into weapons.”