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Coupeville schools mum on bus incident

Coupeville School District parent Jerry Squire talks to school board members during a special meeting Monday night. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville School District parent Jerry Squire talks to school board members during a special meeting Monday night.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A group of parents expressed frustration at a Coupeville School Board meeting Monday about the lack of communication regarding a violent incident on a school bus last week that left one student injured and another under arrest.

The parents want school administrators to do a better job of communicating with them in the future.

Parent Jamie McClarin said parents aren’t getting solid information from administrators about an Oct. 5 incident in which a student apparently was cut badly enough to need 11 stitches. She added that information about the incident is hurting student morale in the schools.

“They are accepting that these things happen at the school,” McClarin said. “They don’t know that these events have been dealt with.”

While the school district was mum on the incident, the Island County Prosecutor’s Office was more forthcoming. According to Prosecutor Greg Banks, a 13-year-old boy allegedly sliced open another student’s knee with a box cutter. Prosecutors charged the boy with second-degree assault.

The victim was treated at Whidbey General Hospital. Coupeville Town Marshal Dave Penrod said Tuesday that the case is currently under investigation.

Approximately 30 parents attended the special meeting during which the school board planned to sort out details of upcoming levies that will go before voters in February, but the school bus incident dominated the early discussions.

All of the parents expressed similar sentiments of frustration about how school officials handled the situation, especially with the vague letter they received explaining the incident. The letter only references an “alleged incident” and gives no further details.

“I was very upset with the fact that the only communication is a letter saying it’s been taken care of,” said parent Julie Rosenthal, adding she was disturbed when she saw her child come home from school upset.

“I hope you guys make changes in your notification policy,” Rosenthal said.

Parent Amanda Rice said that better information will help parents talk with their children about the consequences of such actions and stop inaccurate rumors from circulating in the community.

School officials offered the parents few details regarding the school bus violence. Superintendent Patty Page acknowledged there was an incident on the bus and that one student was injured. She said she is bound by federal laws, namely the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act, from releasing any details that may identify the students involved.

She emphasized that regulations prevent her from not only disclosing names, but from releasing any information that could identify particular students. And, she said, for such a small district as Coupeville, it wouldn’t take much information for people to figure out which students were involved.

The school district’s policy is to send out information to all parents stemming from incidents that affect the entire student body, such as a fire alarm being pulled or a school having to go into lockdown.

However, for incidents that effect particular students, such as threats, only parents of students involved will be contacted, Page said.

School board President Don Sherman thanked the parents for showing up. He mentioned that the school district has policies in place concerning bullying. He also encouraged parents to participate and communicate with school board members, such as the community cafes the Coupeville School Board holds at various times throughout the year.

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