Reformer requests court documents related to school security measures
BRATTLEBORO -- The Reformer will be in court at 9 a.m. on Feb. 22 asking to see any court documents related to an involuntary commitment hearing that was held on Jan. 25.
The Reformer has reason to believe the hearing was related to the implementation of precautionary security measures at schools in the region, especially those in Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, during the week starting Jan. 28.
On the night of Jan. 27, the supervisory union initiated an emergency notification system informing parents of the security measures.
"Town officials were notified that a person who had previously made nonspecific threats regarding school-age people might be returning to the area," stated Town Manager Barbara Sondag in a press release. "Taking the threats seriously, representatives from police, fire and town administration met to develop a response plan."
The press release mentioned the December shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"Since the recent tragedy at Newtown, we are extremely sensitive to possible threats to our children and will respond in a proactive manner," stated Sondag, noting the individual in question had violated no laws.
Ron Stahley, the superintendent of WSESU, told the Reformer that after consulting with the town, "We felt it made sense to take precautionary measures."
On Jan. 28, 40 to 50 percent of the students attending Brattleboro Union High School were kept home.
Many parents were concerned about the lack of information available to them.
"They wanted to sound like they were on top of things," said one parent. "But will all the vagueness all they did was cause a mass panic. The kids are all scared, and nobody wants to send them to school today."
The "nonspecific threats" affected not only schools in WSESU.
Schools in Winchester and Hinsdale, N.H., took precautionary measures, as did schools in the Deerfield Valley, the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union and the Windham Central Supervisory Union.
In a newsletter to parents in Winchester, Superintendent Jim Lewis stated a man who had made threatening remarks toward children had been taken into custody after being "at-large" for a few days.
Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn told the Reformer he was not aware of anyone being taken into custody, but added he was "aware of a person (but) no laws had been broken."
Chris Kibbe, the superintendent of WNESU, sent an e-mail to his faculty and administrators about the "nonspecific threats."
"On Friday, a 25-year-old patient at the Retreat was unexpectedly released," wrote Kibbe. "The police do not at this point know where he is, but he has some connection to the Windham Central area, though he apparently did not attend the public schools there."
Kibbe noted that his information was "only third hand," but the person in question did make some reference "to guns and to Sandy Hook ... hence the active threat status that they and we have adopted."
The Brattleboro Retreat refused to confirm or deny whether the person in question had been a patient in its facility.
However, said Simpson, if the Retreat was concerned about a person's stability and whether that person was a danger to the community, it would file commitment proceedings in the local court.
"The community at large has a right to be protected from somebody who may be dangerous."
The Reformer did obtain court documents from Jan. 25 that indicated an involuntary commitment of a person identified as "K.G." was held.
When the Reformer requested all documentation related to the hearing, the court refused, noting according to state statutes "the public shall not have access to records of the court in mental health and mental retardation proceedings ..."
The Reformer appealed the court's denial, noting "Involuntary commitment proceedings are not confidential where public interest requires that the proceedings be open to the public.
"It is in the public interest to know the name of the person who made the alleged threats, the nature of the threats and the institution or person who requested the involuntary commitment," noted the Reformer in its letter of appeal. "This information bears on Windham County's ability to protect its children."
The Reformer also noted it's in the court's best interest to be transparent to maintain public confidence in its decision-making process.
"The threat to the safety of children in Windham County and the Court's decision to not institutionalize (the subject) directly affect the public," wrote the Reformer. "Indeed, the Windham County School District's decision to implement enhanced security measures is evidence of the significance of the Court's decision for the Windham County community."
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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