Parents Say High School Minimized Cyberthreats
By Patric Hedlund
"I didn’t sleep all night after hearing that he said he was going to kill me," Sean Parsons, 18 said in an interview Monday, Sept. 27. The Frazier Mountain High School senior is clearheaded about what occurred.
He knows that a friend of his was on a Facebook chatboard Tuesday, Sept. 21 when a FMHS senior began begging her "to come back to me." In a chilling series of manipulative messages, the 17-year-old told her he would kill himself if she did not agree to "give me another chance." She pleaded with him not to make such threats, but steadfastly refused to date him again. They had broken up before the end of last school year. There are allegations that he has stalked her since, and has stalked others before.
In the chatboard harangue, he insisted that she call him on the telephone that night, telling her that he would kill himself if she did not call him by 8 p.m. He also wrote, "…I will kill Sean just because I can."
Shocked, the girl called her mother into the room for help. They called Sean’s parents to warn him of what had been said. You would not be reading any of this in the newspaper today if the parents of the girl and Sean’s family felt that law enforcement and school officials were responsive to their concerns for the safety of their children.
On the other hand, just as this story was unfolding at Frazier Mountain High School, an international conference on the subject of cyberbullying was being held in Arizona, precisely because this is a growing problem that brings parents, schools and law enforcement into still unclear roles.
This is how the girl’s father tells the story: That night, just after it happened, I spoke with a dispatch person at 911, I said I have a transcript of these threats. The dispatcher said the sheriff’s deputy might want to pay us a visit.
“Then [the senior who made the threats] called his daughter’s cell phone to talk with her directly. I thought, ‘I’m not going to let that happen,’ so I answered the phone myself.
“That is when I asked him about whether he did drugs or drinks alcohol or takes pills and I asked about his friends. I then kept talking to him about fixing his car and anything I could think of to keep him on the phone and to keep his mind off what he’d been talking with my daughter about.
“We kept expecting the deputy to arrive at any moment. He never did.”
Although no one informed the family that evening, Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Brown of the Frazier Park substation confirmed for The Mountain Enterprise that a deputy went to home of [the senior who made the threats] the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 8:48 p.m. to check on his welfare.
“The boy’s parents were there to care for him,” Sgt. Brown said in an interview September 29. There was no communication back to the other anxious families, however.
So back on Wednesday, Sept. 22, when Sean Parsons got off the FMHS school bus at about 7:50 the morning after the threats, he had no information other than that someone he barely knew had threatened to kill him. “I was pretty nervous because I’ve only done good to other people at my school, I don’t understand why he’d say something like that,” Sean recalls. “Then, the first person I saw when I walked into the school was [the senior who made the threats]. I just walked right into the office and told the principal, Mr. Penner, what had happened,” he said.
“I told him that the previous night I had death threats against me and that the cops were contacted. Mr. Penner took notes. He said he would call me back to the office to talk further about the actions that would be taken.”
First period had already started. Sean said he ran to his first class “so I wouldn’t be out in the hall in case he [the senior who had made the threats] was still out there.”
Before second period, he was called back to the office and told to talk to the campus security officer, Angelica Najar. “She gave me a piece of paper and she said to write everything down and then she read it and she contacted the authorities.”
A half hour later KCSO Senior Deputy Richard Garret read the letter and asked Sean questions about the threats on Facebook. Then [the senior who made the threats] was called to the office to talk with Najar and Garret for another half hour.
Altogether, Sean was in the office and out of classes for most of three periods, three hours, that day.
“Sr. Deputy Garrett said the threats were through a third person. He said I would have problems getting him arrested, and because he was not standing right next to me saying, ‘I am going to kill you,’ they would not take it as seriously, because it was over a chat. He said I would probably have a hard time getting legal attention to this. It made me feel useless about the situation. My life is in danger and I couldn’t do much about it, they said.”
Sean sat in an empty room with a locked door while FMHS Vice Principal Buck Weber went into another office with the deputy and Najar to talk with [the senior who made the threats] who was then escorted to his car. His parents were there, all three drove different cars, his friends told him later, and at the stop sign to Frazier Mountain Park Road, by coincidence, the girl who had received the threats and her father met them: “all three went in different directions,” the girl’s family reported, making it appear to them that the [the senior who had made the threats] would not be receiving supervision that afternoon.
Back at the school, Sean was told by the security officer that [the senior who made the threats] had been suspended for the next five days. Najar asked if he wanted to go back to class or be picked up by his father. He said since [the senior who made the threats] was off campus, he wanted to go back to class.
“I have all A’s in my classes this year, it is the best I’ve ever done,” Sean told this reporter, clearly involved in his education.
Parents Call for Plan
By the next day, the two sets of parents of the students who felt stalked and threatened called upon the school district for a plan. Scott Parsons, Sean’s father, was calling everyone he could think of to find out how their children’s safety could be secured. He was still trying to receive a copy of the actual threat, which he had been told had been given to the KCSO. Then he learned that Deputy Garrett had shredded the transcript of the Facebook chat which included the threat. He was told by Garret that the Kern County Deputy District Attorney said he could not file “criminal threat” charges in this case because the threat was not made directly to his son, which is an element of the crime (the threat was made to a third party). To Parsons, it was as if law enforcement had turned their back, and destroyed evidence while doing it.
Superintendent Katie Klieir sounded helpful, he reports, telling him she was going to a meeting about the issue at the high school.
Football Game Threat
But Friday night, as Sean and the girl were in the bleachers performing in drumline for the Falcon varsity football game, [the senior who made the threats] walked up the bleachers straight toward them. He sat behind them, about eight feet away.
"I saw him come to the bleachers and sit behind me. It made me extremely nervous, and I was questioning why he was there. He had made death threats, and I was worried that he would do something," Sean said.
The girl’s father was there at the game that night too. He was alarmed to see [the senior who had made the threats] appear and approach the two students whom he had threatened. The girl’s father went to talk to the principal, Dan Penner, who was at the game. The worrried father returned to the bleachers disappointed. "Mr. Penner said he ‘didn’t want to make a big deal about the whole thing," he told Sean.
Sean speaks logically about what he perceives as an injustice: "I think they should have had him removed immediately because he had been suspended; he was violating the suspension by being on school property when he was not supposed to be there. In my opinion that should have resulted in an expulsion right there."
The girl’s father, receiving no aid from the principal, asked two large JV football players to sit next to Sean and his daughter for the rest of the game, in case something started.
Meanwhile, Scott Parsons, Sean’s father, had been seeking answers from every official he could find. The families had an uneasy weekend, and on Monday when the students returned to school, they learned that [the senior who had made the threat] was going to be allowed to return to school the next day. Parsons and the girl’s father called the school, asking how it would handle the classes the students shared with him, such as fifth period. The vice principal, Buck Weber, told the girl she could come sit in the office if she felt uncomfortable being in class with him. The parents recoiled. "Why," they asked, "should those who had not done anything be the ones to have their education disrupted?"
Sean was called into the academic counselor’s office and asked to change his class schedule. He refused. "I’m doing well in these classes, why should I give them up? I haven’t done anything. The person who made the threats should be the one who should be asked to change," he reasoned.
Scott Parsons was then told by Buck Weber that the school planned to put the students in a room together the next day to have a confrontation and to "write a contract." Parsons asked to be there. Weber said ‘no,’ Parsons reports. As Sean’s father, he flatly rejected the plan to have his son sit in a room with the aggressor and be asked to sign a contract without his parent there. The girl’s parents also rejected this plan.
During this time The Mountain Enterprise was leaving messages for the vice principal and the principal that were not returned.
Three Kids Stay Home
On Tuesday, Sept. 28 when [the senior who made the threats] returned to school, Sean, his sister and the girl all stayed home from school.
State Board of Education
Penner had told Scott Parsons that he was waiting for direction from the sheriff’s department. But Parsons had called California Department of Education School Violence Safety Program Administrator Stephanie Papas. She told him—and confirmed for The Mountain Enterprise—that case law supports that the site administrator at a school "has a right and a responsibility to act when an incident negatively affects the learning environment," regardless of whether the incident was face to face or even on school grounds.
"Hopefully," Papas said, "the site administrator [Penner] has received support and training from their district office. [As an administrator] you have to make a determination based on what you believe are the facts and based on what the law allows you to do," she said.
On September 28 Scott Parsons called The Mountain Enterprise: "I just got off the phone with Mr. Penner. He sounds very confused. My kids will stay out of school until I know they are safe."
The Mountain Enterprise asked Principle Dan Penner to explain his policy at FMHS for when a student feels unsafe because of another’s actions or behavior.
He responded in email: "If a student is feeling unsafe, they simply need to contact one of us in administration. We would then address it. The specifics would depend on the circumstances. I hope this helps."
—Added reporting by Gary Meyer
[Lebec, Gorman, Neenach, Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods, Cuddy Valley, Lockwood Valley, Pine Mountain]
This is part of the October 01, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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