There oughta be a law

It happened in February, three months and a lifetime ago, when two Thibodaux High School students were arrested, allegedly for making threats of violence directed at fellow students.

The arrests appeared part and parcel of a sudden wave of concern brought on by the tragic shooting deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, a new sort of St. Valentine’s Day massacre, the tale of which is well-told.

In Thibodaux and surrounding communities, the initial arrests — not connected to any acts of violence — rubbed emotions made raw by the far-away incident.

Word of the initial arrest in the Thibodaux threat case made for unease on the part of parents, their chief complaint being notification procedures.

Parents said they should have been told that there was a potential for trouble. It should be their choice whether their children went to school or not.

Confirmation that, during the prior year, a student had expressed a desire to harm other children, did not emerge until late in the day when Keith Usea was questioned. That’s the reason, school officials said, that no notifications to parents were made. There are also appeared to be some glitches in communication between school officials and law enforcement, which did give out a statement once the facts were ascertained and a warrant issued.

School officials said they delayed notifications because the threat had already been eliminated.

Regardless of any reasons offered, some parents were adamant in their belief that something should be done to prevent such communications issues in the future.

Al Carter, a Thibodaux parent and former state senatorial candidate, was incensed that Thibodaux High notified him that his daughter was absent from school Wednesday but did not inform him that she was one of the students on an alleged “hit list.”

“I want a law to mandate schools to notify parents and the community of any threats of violence and any violence that occurs at or near school property immediately and at the latest 24 hours after knowledge of the act was brought to their attention and verified,” Carter said at the time. “That it should be done through text messaging systems, EMAIL, phone calls and onsite notification. That the only exception would be if it would hinder an active investigation by law enforcement and in that case a generic notice without specifics would be sent out with a warning of a potential act. And that if a specific student or students were the target of a potential violent threat that their parents or guardians would be notified immediately regardless of the status of the investigation.”

Parents of targeted students, he said, should be notified prior to the return of a student that made the threat to school, although he also maintains that offending students should not be allowed to do so, but rather be placed in an alternative school setting.

A lot of living has been done since the threat occurred at Thibodaux High. Seniors are ready to graduate. The state legislature has met and adjourned.

And during that session, in the midst of talk about a fiscal cliff, a rewrite of the state constitution, a bill to create more guns in schools and a bill to make it less so, authorization of bullet proof bookbags and talk of arming teachers, a simple action was taken in response to a father’s plea.

HB 498, authored by Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards. will now be ensconced in RS 17:1416 (A) (3), which makes requirements of school crisis management and response plans.

The law says “The plan, which shall focus on preventing the loss of life and the injury of students and teachers and other school employees, shall detail the roles and responsibilities of each school employee and the relevant coordination agreements, services, and security measures of a school … “

So far so good.

It also states that the plan must “provide for parental notification in the event of a shooting or other violent incident or emergency situation.”

It’s not a whole lot. But it is enough for now, so far as Al Carter is concerned. And it is proof that a single parent’s concerns, broadcast loudly enough, can still have an impact and sometimes can even become law.