A Phenix City mother has accused Central Freshman Academy staff members of violating the school system’s policy while searching all students who entered the school Monday morning as police investigated a threat posted on social media, but the superintendent insists the complaint is a misapplication of the policy.
Phenix City Police Lt. Darrell Lassiter told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview, “The incident was resolved, and students were never in any danger.”
Lassiter said the incident didn’t result in any arrests or criminal charges, and he wouldn’t specify the threat, but he emphasized, “It was never a threat made toward the school or any person at the school.”
CFA principal Rachael Peters referred the Ledger-Enquirer’s questions to Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes.
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Via email, Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer the threat was posted on social media Sunday night. Lassiter said a student who saw the post alerted one of his parents, and that parent notified the police.
Wilkes said he authorized the search after the school administration “notified me of their desire.” School employees searched the belongings of students and used wands on “no more than 10 percent” of them as they entered the building, but no weapons were found, he said.
“The notion of a threat to ‘shoot up’ Central Freshman Academy was false,” Wilkes said. “There were less than a dozen checkouts after 10:30 a.m.”
The Phenix City mother contacted the L-E about this incident to express her concerns.
The school board’s Student Code of Conduct, which is posted on CFA’s website, says, “Parents/guardians shall be notified that a search has been conducted.” But such notification was not given, the mother said, and she knows about it only from her son’s text message.
The communication from school officials never mentioned that students were searched. Parents and guardians received a text message that said, “There is no active threat at CFA/CHS and learning continues as usual. Check email for further details.”
The email from Peters to parents and guardians says:
“There was a concerning social media posting overnight that we were promptly made aware of prior to the opening of the school this morning. Administration worked with school system personnel and the Phenix City Police Department to ensure that all students and staff were safe on our campus. There is no active threat and learning continues at CFA!
“Thank you for sending us your children to educate. Have a great rest of your day!”
The mother noted, “The email subject was ‘All Clear Call Out’ but there was never a ‘call out’ that there was an issue.”
The school secretary and counselor are the staff members who searched her son, the mother said. No other schools officials or police were present when her son was searched, she said. That violates the policy, she asserted, because the policy says, “The search shall be under the direct supervision of the principal.”
The school was “on a certain ‘level’ lockdown,” the mother said, “where activities could still take place but doors had to be locked, and they had to block the view from the halls to inside the classrooms. There was a small table with chairs on each side upon entry to the school, which required nothing to get buzzed in, and he said those tables, like checkpoints, were set up all over school.”
All of which prompted the mother to conclude, “It’s like they’re covering it up and playing down the severity of it all.”
She added, “I want to be optimistic that this thing will be a learning experience and that they will change policies and admit where there was fault.”
In a phone interview Tuesday night, Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer that the policy the mother cited, “Search of a Student’s Person,” doesn’t apply in this case because the students were searched with a wand.
“To my knowledge,” he said, “there was no pat-down.”
The news of this search, Wilkes contends, should be about the dozens of city, police and school officials quickly cooperating to ensure the safety and well-being of the students.
Wilkes, however, said he welcomes the mother to speak to the administration about her concerns.
Asked why parents and guardians weren’t notified about the search, regardless of whether the policy requires it, Wilkes said, “There is no such thing as a perfect policy or procedure. If there's something we can do to better communicate to parents, then we are receptive.”