Three third-grade boys at St. James’ Episcopal School on St. Andrews Place allegedly threatened a female student with a knife in the school library on Sept. 15, according to information provided to parents by the school.
LAPD Olympic Division officers responded to the school for a suspected child abuse incident and took an injury report. Officer Liliana Preciado, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the victim’s father refused police involvement, but officers did speak with school administrators.
She said the department could not release any more details. However, two e-mails sent to parents by St. James’ head of school, Deborah David, offered additional information about the incident.
“This morning, I met with a parent who informed me that a student in our third grade class had brought a knife to school and had verbally threatened her daughter with it,” David wrote in one of the e-mails. “We began an investigation immediately, interviewing several students and adults. The boy who had been accused readily admitted that he had indeed brought two different knives to school last week.”
She said two other boys were allegedly involved in the incident. David said a school investigation revealed that the boys had lightly held the girl so the “boy could make good on his threat” to harm her.
“We now believe that was probably done in a half-joking manner, which makes the gesture only minimally more acceptable,” she wrote. “Since all of this occurred in the library, the three boys quickly dispersed so the teachers would not hear or see what was going on; and most importantly, no harm was inflicted on anyone.”
David said it was “almost inconceivable” that none of the children involved told an adult about the incident. More than half of the students in the third-grade class said they were aware of the presence of a knife at school and had not reported it to anyone, she said.
“So, for several days, a child carried a dangerous weapon at St. James’ and occasionally displayed it to his peers without any adult being aware of the potential danger to our children,” the head of school wrote.
In the first e-mail to parents, David said “substantial” suspensions were imposed on all three boys, but they will all return to school.
“The boys and their families are aware of the seriousness of the incident, and they understand that, should there be another incident in which any of the boys brings a weapon, a facsimile of a weapon, or if any of them makes any threat against another child, expulsion from St. James’ will be our only remaining option,” she wrote. “The families of all three boys grasp the seriousness of the issue, are deeply apologetic and have been fully and graciously cooperative with the school despite their own shock and consternation.”
Following a forum with parents on Sept. 17, school officials determined that the “community was not prepared for the planned reintegration of all the children back into the school,” David said. Therefore, school officials have slowed that process down, she said.
“It is the school’s responsibility to orchestrate each child’s return in ways that will be supportive, recognizing the fears and anxieties of children on both sides of this event,” David wrote. “To begin the process, we met with the children, their siblings and their parents several times. In deference to our community, one of the children will wait indefinitely before returning, while we reevaluate the case and finally determine a date for reentrance to St. James’. On Monday, Ms. [Carol] Swainson, the assistant head of school, and I will meet with every class to reassure them that they are safe, discuss the incident and remind them of the school’s most critical rules.”
The head of school also outlined some other measures school officials are taking or have taken.
“In the last week, we have uncovered a serious discipline incident, conducted an investigation, reopened that investigation twice, conducted numerous interviews, answered hundreds of emotional e-mails, met with dozens of parents individually, held a large public forum, met repeatedly with the families of children who were accused, made decisions, took considerable heat for those decisions and have come up with a plan for the future that reflects what we have heard from you,” David wrote.
The e-mail states that two police officers visited the school on Sept. 19 unexpected and unannounced. Two individuals, who asked to remain anonymous but claimed to be parents of children at the school, said the school attempted to keep the incident in-house. After meeting with the head of school, a group of parents contacted the LAPD to request an investigation, they said.
“The police listened to my account of the proceedings exactly as we detailed it for you on Monday and Tuesday in our written communication, and I shared, as well, what we would tell you in this follow up,” David wrote. “They told me that they were satisfied that we had done everything that they would have recommended to do, and that, under the circumstances, there was no legal imperative for the school to report this case to them.”
She said the school board will “undertake a protracted review of policies” that are pertinent to the case. David said the faculty will begin to review the best character education programs in publication at the moment and select one to supplement the school’s response.
“We will draw strength and inspiration from our core beliefs and religion program and will also add greater depth of understanding about the need to tell an adult when something feels dangerous or wrong — one of several teachable moments we’ve identified in this week’s events,” she wrote. “We will also craft or adopt a more succinct code of conduct, a pledge that will be child-friendly and will become part of the fabric of our St. James’ community.”
When contacted by Park Labrea News/Beverly Press for additional comments, the school’s director of advancement, Chris Cook, said David would respond to questions. She then released the following statement.
“St. James’ School is committed to protecting and nurturing the children of our community physically, spiritually and emotionally,” the statement reads. “As a matter of practice, St. James’ policies and procedures are guided by the National Association of Independent Schools, our Episcopalian ethos and all relevant state and local laws. We are committed to respecting the right to privacy in this matter for all concerned.”
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