Education

Conway Middle School didn’t notify police of shooting threat as district policy requires

Horry County Schools receive dozens of threats in the wake of Parkland shooting

Barry Markovsky, a University of South Carolina sociology professor, said an increase in threats is common after school shootings.
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Barry Markovsky, a University of South Carolina sociology professor, said an increase in threats is common after school shootings.

Conway Middle School administrators did not immediately notify law enforcement last week when a student threatened to shoot up the school, despite an Horry County School District policy requiring them to do so.

The threat came to light May 21 after an incident report logged in the district’s internal online information system was shared with The Sun News. It states that on the morning of May 20, a student heard another making the threat to shoot up the school on May 22. That student reported it to a teacher, who reported it to administration.

Student statements found that two students overheard the exchange in the cafeteria line during breakfast, and the student admitted to an administrator they said it but weren’t actually going to do it, according to the report.

A school district employee shared the information with The Sun News on the condition of anonymity, noting at the time that parents and staff weren’t formally notified.

Principal Regina Treadwell Pertell sent an email to parents and staff about the threat at 10:30 p.m. May 21, about two hours after The Sun News contacted the district regarding the incident.

“The parents of all the students who were involved in the incident have been contacted. The student who made the threat is facing disciplinary actions, but out of an abundance of caution, extra law enforcement presence will be at the school tomorrow,” she wrote in the email.

Treadwell Pertell later sent another email to parents explaining that the original notification was sent late at night because administrators were informed around 9 p.m. that extra law enforcement would be at the school due to the anonymous message sent to local media.

That email also states that the student was confined by administration and the school resource officer, who works for the Conway Police Department.

On Thursday morning, district spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier told The Sun News that proper protocols were followed and the SRO was aware of the incident.

When reached again Tuesday, Bourcier via email wrote, “After further review of this matter, we have learned that there was a delay in communication between school administration and their SRO, which is being addressed internally.”

When asked when exactly the SRO was informed, why the district initially said the officer was informed, and whether this meant proper protocols were not followed, Bourcier just repeated that it was discovered after further review and is being addressed internally.

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Timeline of our communication

We first contacted Horry County School District via spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier around 8:30 p.m. May 21, shortly after receiving the internal incident report. We posted the story after Bourcier confirmed the threat was made by forwarding the email from Conway Middle School Principal Regina Treadwell Pertell that was sent to parents and staff.

We contacted Treadwell Pertell and immediately sent follow-up questions to Bourcier, who didn’t respond until late May 22, only confirming the timing of the email and informing us that communication to parents and staff is at the discretion of school administration.

Bourcier responded to further questions about protocols and police notification Thursday morning, when she stated that protocols were followed, and the school resource officer was informed.

Follow-up questions

After learning from Conway officials that the SRO wasn’t immediately informed, we contacted Bourcier again Tuesday. She did not directly answer questions about when exactly the SRO was informed or whether protocols were followed.

In addition to Treadwell Pertell, we also reached out to David Beaty, the district’s school safety and security coordinator, about the incident.

He was out of town and unable to talk, but sent an email stating that the district has protocols pertaining to threats, including a credibility assessment, and that they routinely partner with public safety agencies. Responses are situational in nature, he said.

Editor’s note: The reason for Beaty being unable to talk has been corrected in this story.

Interview requests denied

When reached Tuesday seeking an in-person or phone interview, Beaty responded that no further discussion was needed because he answered The Sun News’ questions already, and Bourcier had already responded to other protocol-related questions.

Bourcier later asked The Sun News to send her a list of all questions it had for Treadwell Pertell or any other district employee regarding the incident, but when we instead asked her to set up interviews, she declined, asking again for questions to be sent to her.

The district’s policy manual breaks down student misconduct into three levels: Level I is disorderly conduct and includes forged notes and profanity; Level II is disruptive conduct and includes inappropriate touching and vandalism; Level III is the most severe and includes bomb threat and threat to staff.

The manual lists possible sanctions and recommended actions based on the level of misconduct, and Level III actions require the administrator or their designee to notify law enforcement officials.

A Conway Police Department incident report shows the department was dispatched to the school to take details of the threat about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The report shows the student who made the threat was suspended pending a manifestation determination review hearing.

Conway spokeswoman Taylor Newell said that their policy requires the SRO to inform the police department about the threat.

Treadwell Pertell met with school staff on May 22 in small groups to discuss the incident, according to a district employee. That employee also shared a voice recording of one of those meetings.

Treadwell Pertell can be heard on the recording telling staff to read The Sun News article and come back with questions or concerns, though she notes that the employee who asked to remain anonymous erred in saying that nearly half of students on May 20 didn’t go through a metal detector.

She said there’s no definitive procedure for administrators to follow when it comes to informing parents and staff about a threat, which Bourcier confirmed in saying that such communication is at the discretion of school administration.

Treadwell Pertell later said in the meeting, in hindsight, she wishes she informed staff earlier, though she adds that some staff members have expressed a desire not to know about the threat if it doesn’t directly involve them.

At multiple points during the meeting, Treadwell Pertell states that the SRO was part of the investigation and helped remove the threat. She said that’s the advantage of having a police officer on campus.

She also confirms during the meeting that the threat would qualify as a Level III action, but is unable to answer a staff member’s question about why it was coded in the internal reporting system as “inappropriate behavior,” which isn’t a Level III offense.

Treadwell Pertell did not respond to an interview request from The Sun News.

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.
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