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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Police reports detail incidents that raised chief’s concern about Spokane Public Schools security protocols

March 30, 2022 Updated Thu., March 31, 2022 at 9:59 a.m.

Spokane Police Department Chief Craig Meidl answers questions after a press conference hosted and attended by nearly 20 Eastern Washington law enforcement agencies attend at CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley, Wash. on July 22, 2021.   (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Police Department Chief Craig Meidl answers questions after a press conference hosted and attended by nearly 20 Eastern Washington law enforcement agencies attend at CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley, Wash. on July 22, 2021.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Staff and administrators at Spokane Public Schools have responded inconsistently to apparent threats to campus safety, according to police reports reviewed by Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl before he wrote a warning letter to the district about its crime reporting.

The reports released by the Spokane Police Department on Wednesday pursuant to a public records request from The Spokesman-Review follow the FBI announcing its own inquiry into allegations the district is not meeting reporting requirements.

The documents show a teacher at Ferris High School wanted to press charges against a student who had threatened her life in January, but she felt she was unable to because the school district’s safety director was unavailable. She had to wait six days before filing a police report.

The student threatened to kill the teacher, called her an explicit name and then said, “boom boom boom,” while “pointing his hand in her direction as if he’s holding a handgun,” according to another instructor who witnessed the incident.

The incident prompted an email from Spokane police Lt. Rich Meyer to Meidl, in which he stated “great concern with the school district doing this as incidents could escalate that will put students in great danger.”

In a text message Wednesday, Meidl declined comment on the reports, citing the pending FBI review. He did say that his evaluation included not just the reports, but also “discussions with a school staff member and officers who had information they relayed to me from multiple staff members.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the district canceled a planned news conference and media availability scheduled for Thursday to discuss its safety policy. Instead, it sent an email detailing the history of its campus safety model but otherwise declining comment.

“Although we are happy to talk about our safety model, its history, and the current positive impact on students and families, we are unable to answer any question that could be perceived as relating to the current FBI review,” the district said in a statement.

Later Wednesday, The Spokesman-Review sent a series follow-up questions related to the police reports, including whether the district was aware of the delay in reporting the incident at Ferris.

“We unable to answer any questions that are related to the current review by law enforcement,” district spokeswoman Sandra Jarrard said in a statement.

While the January incident indicates reticence to inform police, several of the reports Meidl reviewed before warning the district of what he believes are its reporting requirements show administrators contacting law enforcement.

During an incident at Glover Middle School last November, an assistant principal called police when older students arrived on campus and appeared to threaten a student after school let out. The principal then helped responding officers identify the four teenagers responsible, who were booked into juvenile detention.

Meyer wrote in his email to Meidl that the district’s director of campus safety “recognizes the issues of mixed messages” from the school district on when to inform police of potential criminal conduct on school grounds.

The Spokane School Board, early this month, enacted a new policy that states that the district should employ “law enforcement only as the absolute last resort and only for incidents for which law enforcement is necessary to address a serious threat to school safety.”

That policy is part of revisions that have been in the work for several years, Board President Mike Wiser said earlier this month, and more accurately reflects the position the district has taken to discipline in recent years.

In several of the more than 30 police reports Meidl reviewed, which were released by the city without identifying information for minor victims, witnesses or suspects, school administrators told police they’d made their own investigations of behavior and attempted to resolve issues without law enforcement. In November, the father of a student at Rogers High School called police saying his daughter had been involved in a fight during lunch period the previous day.

The responding officer said he did not observe any injuries on the girl. When he followed up with administrators at Rogers, they said the girl had been suspended for three days and they wanted to handle the matter internally.

In other instances, administrators stepped in when it appeared witnesses might not wish to speak to police. The same assistant principal at Glover Middle School that stepped in to protect a student had called police in early April 2021 after she learned that a 14-year-old student was having a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old male.

The assistant principal told officers the girl was “very anti-police and would refuse to communicate any of this information with uniformed officers.” The officers heeded her advice not to further question the girl or her family, according to the police report.

In at least one case, it’s unclear from the reports at what point the district was aware of a potential incident. In early November, a 15-year-old student at Lewis and Clark High School was punched by another student while walking out of the building after school. The student fell and struck his head and was knocked unconscious.

Police responded to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center more than 12 hours later after being called by a nurse. The student was being treated for injuries that were redacted from a police report, but that required surgery. The report indicates the school resource officer stayed with the student who punched the other, but does not mention any discipline or whether staff alerted police to the incident.

The district’s notice canceling the news conference scheduled for Thursday included a two-page summary of its campus safety policy, which it says has been “ongoing and public since 2015.”

“At that time the district was receiving a high volume of complaints regarding campus safety and student discipline,” said the district, which noted that it once had one of the highest suspension rates and arrest rates in the state.

“Several groups expressed their intent to file a civil lawsuit against the district if the causes weren’t adequately identified and addressed,” the district said.

The emphasis on restorative practices “is having a positive impact,” the district’s statement said, citing a decline in district-wide exclusions (suspensions and expulsions) from more than 4,000 in the 2014-15 school year, to under 2,000 this school year.

“Student perceptions of school safety are steadily rising according to annual surveys of our student body,” the district said.

Earlier this year, the Spokane School Board was presented with proposed security procedures from the superintendent that prohibited staff members, except for a designated safety officer, from contacting law enforcement in many nonemergency situations. That designated safety officer could seek police intervention only in six specific instances: sex crimes, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, use or possession of deadly weapons, suicide and homicide. The proposed rules indicate that school employees would be barred from contacting police for other crimes, such as second-degree assault, unless there was an emergency.

The district has said that the procedure is not currently in place, but its status is unclear.

Staff writer Jim Allen contributed to this report.

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