Worthington Schools leaders say they plan to change district policies after an alleged shooting threat from a Kilbourne Middle School student was not reported to police until four days later.
According to emails obtained by ThisWeek, Kilbourne Middle School principal Jim Gaskill received warning the evening of Friday, March 16, that a student had threatened violence by doing "something big," but he did not alert the Worthington Division of Police until March 20, after the student already had returned to school.
Harold Delvonnie Hadnot Jr., 13, was charged March 20 with a second-degree felony count of inducing panic, according to Sgt. James Moran.
Charges of inciting panic become felonies when they involve schools, Moran said, and the boy was charged through the Franklin County Juvenile Court, in which he has been assigned a public defender and is scheduled to stand trial May 1.
Superintendent Trent Bowers said as district leaders reflected "on this event and the community concerns around the incident," they would "shift our process a little bit."
"Previously, our first step in most situations would be to talk with the student and their family," he said. "As an educational institution, we've always felt that that was the right first step. With recent events and things happened around the U.S., I think expectations have shifted and we're probably more comfortable now with immediately contacting police and making sure it's taken care of that way."
Bowers sent an email to district families April 2, saying much the same thing and adding that administrators would undergo threat-assessment training this summer.
He also said district leaders were scheduled to meet Thursday, April 5, with police representatives from Worthington, Perry Township and Sharon Township to discuss working together.
"We certainly appreciate our relationship with the Worthington police and the response they provide," he said. "It's a really important relationship that we have."
Although school board President Julie Keegan said she understood concerns over the incident, she was not critical of Gaskill and other administrators' handling of the situation.
"I think every safety situation in schools, especially in 2018, can be second-guessed," she said. "So I'm sure that there are those that would be critical of us not reporting every syllable that's uttered between classes in the hallways. But the threat wasn't ignored."
Worthington police Chief Jerry Strait said he thinks the situation demonstrates a "national issue" of "how do we have effective communication?"
"Our team wants to be in the know and the first to know," he said. "I don't know the full details behind what transpired there, but I think from a national level, everyone wants to know upfront.
"Our position is that the sooner we're aware, as a community, on all these issues ... it gives us better insight into trying to avert something and to have the ability to rectify or treat the situation more effectively."
Keegan said the boy was "known to the principal and the dean" and administrators "had a relationship with the student, as well as his mother."
"The decision about how to handle it was definitely informed by the fact that this wasn't just a name on a page," she said. "They knew who this student was; they deal with him very frequently."
As ThisWeek first reported March 30, in an email sent at 8:09 p.m. March 16, a parent of a Kilbourne Middle School student told Gaskill he was "relaying some information."
The parent told Gaskill that one of his son's classmates, Hadnot, had been "acting upset and/or violent" and had said "something about 'knowing how to get a gun' and 'wanting to do something big' " at a local restaurant after school. The email said the boy allegedly kicked a car and dented and threw a chair at a girl during the incident.
The parent's email said the threats "sounded like a potentially serious issue" and he wanted to make Gaskill aware of them.
At 9:32 a.m. Saturday, March 17, Gaskill replied to thank the parent and said he would "address this first thing Monday morning with the student."
One minute later, he forwarded the message to Kyle Tackett, Kilbourne's dean of students, adding "we will need to address this first thing on Monday."
Keegan said the student was "met at the door" Monday morning, March 19, and administrators verified that he "did not have a weapon and did not pose a threat."
Gaskill has not returned calls seeking comment.
According to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda, Gaskill also informed Neil Gupta, the district's director of secondary education.
Bowers said Gupta was informed after the arrest March 20. He said Gupta "likely" told him that evening, though he does not "have a record" of when he called.
Moran said police did not become involved until March 20, four days after the original email, when Hadnot allegedly left school without being excused.
At 10:52 a.m. March 20, police received a call about an "unruly" student who had left the school. According to Moran, officers were not informed of him making any threats and returned the boy to school.
In an incident report filed at 3:50 p.m. the same day, Gaskill contacted police to report that "a student made threats against the school."
Later that afternoon, after Moran said he and another detective interviewed witnesses to verify the story, the boy was arrested and charged with inducing panic.
The division is not yet releasing the full report or "investigatory information" because, according to Strait, the case is "still open pending formal adjudication."
However, after interviewing the boy and his mother, Mickie Sherman, investigators decided the statements "seemed to be a credible threat," Moran said. The boy "corroborated most" of what other students had told police, he said.
Police did not recover a gun, but the boy had a "plan" to acquire one, Moran said.
At 6:49 p.m. March 20, Gaskill sent a message to Sherman. He said he wanted her to keep the boy at home the next day and asked her to "schedule a time we can meet and discuss (redacted) behavior."
She responded that the boy would not be back in school "this year or next year."
In the future, Keegan said, the district would handle the situation with better-defined processes.
"Based on community concerns that have been brought up after this came out, we are going to give clear instructions to our principals that if a threat comes in after hours ... and if the principal is not able to fully investigate, they should, in fact, contact police immediately," she said. "That doesn't necessarily mean we believe this wasn't handled properly, but just in case there is any remaining doubt."
Keegan said that "in an abundance of caution," the district is planning the summer training on threat assessment.
"In a district with 10,000 students, things happen every week," she said. "We're constantly assessing threats at all times. We do take every threat seriously, but we do want to give our principals and administrators every tool they need."
The district's student handbook outlines procedures for administrators to handle threatening behavior but does not appear to refer to contacting authorities outside "possible police notification" being mentioned in conjunction with a "Level III Violation" on the disciplinary-action chart in Appendix E.