Verona Area High School will have three new security staff members and an anonymous tip line for students next year, among a set of new protocols following three fights in one day earlier this month.
District superintendent Dean Gorrell announced those and other upcoming changes in a letter to parents Friday, May 17, eight days after fights brought police to the high school three separate times, leaving one staff member injured and 18 students suspended.
Gorrell also acknowledged in the letter that the school’s communication after the fights “fell far short of hitting the mark” under the incident response communications policy the school board approved in December 2018.
“I offer my heartfelt apologies for how the communication to parents and District staff was handled last week,” Gorrell wrote. “I can absolutely assure you that the lessons learned on Thursday will be used to ensure that the lack of timely and on-going communication will not happen again.”
In addition to the new staff and tip line, changes include additional supervision at the main entrance during lunch, reemphasizing its parent visitors policy and forming a “response team” at the high school to take on a new fight intervention protocol.
That protocol will be implemented this fall, according to the letter, and will focus on standardizing responses to physical fights, preventing injuries to staff and students and minimizing law enforcement intervention and potential consequences.
In addition, the district will have a new policy regarding students returning to school after completing a suspension, Gorrell wrote. They will have to complete a reentry meeting, and readmission could require a law enforcement consultation, a victim safety plan, a student behavior contract or off-site placement.
To ensure the communication plan works as intended in the future, Gorrell emphasized that the district has “reassigned tasks, changed our protocols and created built-in system backups.”
On May 8, the first fight began around 11:55 a.m., with the second about an hour later and the third at around 2:56 p.m. Communication home from the district, in the form of an email from principal Pam Hammen, came at 8:47 p.m. that night.
“Due to the number of incidents in a condensed period of time, staff in charge of communications were pulled away from their positions,” Gorrell wrote. “This resulted in the complete disruption of the communication stream to our families.”
Meanwhile, news of the fights was spreading through student texts to parents and videos on social media. Some of that social media conversation continued into the evening, and among the students suspended for this month’s fights were “those who used social media in an effort to incite further disturbances,” VASD public information officer Kelly Kloepping wrote in an email Monday to the Press.
He stressed that the staff and VPD officers responding to the incidents did good work, despite the breakdowns.
“While some of our systems failed last week, our staff, high school admin team, and Verona Police Department did not,” Gorrell wrote. “In the middle of the chaos, our staff, administrators, and officers unquestioningly put our students’ safety and well-being first.”