At Denfeld, rumors of violence thin classesAlejandra Caban says going to school is more important right now than worrying about safety. But she said she wouldn’t mind if the school experience felt more prison-like in order to feel safe at Denfeld High School.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Alejandra Caban says going to school is more important right now than worrying about safety. But she said she wouldn’t mind if the school experience felt more prison-like in order to feel safe at Denfeld High School.
Caban, a senior at Denfeld, said persistent rumors of possible violence at the school led to at least a quarter of students not showing up Thursday and Friday. Based on talk among students, there are plans not to attend this Friday as well.
Caban said Denfeld should have more security: metal detectors, sealed doors, fewer windows. When told it sounded like she was describing a prison, she didn’t blanch.
“We aren’t safe anywhere,” Caban said. “We can get shot at a grade school. We can get shot at a church. I’d rather feel like I’m in prison.”
Attendance is down at Denfeld because of concerns related to an unfounded rumor about a gun in school, Duluth Superintendent Bill Gronseth said.
“It was confirmed a rumor, but there is a comfort level,” he said, for some parents who chose to keep their children at home.
He didn’t know the exact number of students who stayed home. Calls to Principal Tonya Sconiers weren’t returned Monday.
Monica Hendrickson is a mother to a sophomore and a senior at the school and kept both of her students home Friday because that was the day a rumored event involving a gun was to take place, she said, noting her kids attended school Monday.
“There was a lot of talk about kids not going on Friday,” she said. “Why take the risk?”
Hendrickson said she felt confident after speaking with both Sconiers and Gronseth that a threat didn’t exist, “but there is so much violence in the community that I am starting to talk to different political leaders to stop it,” she said. “It’s affecting the schools. I want to help, but I don’t believe everything I hear. It’s more than (schools) can handle with the resources they have.”
Denfeld parent Randall Bryant wrote an e-mail Monday evening to the Duluth City Council outlining some of his concerns about the continued feeling of unease at Denfeld. He said he has lost confidence in the school’s administrative staff to handle the rumors and alleged threats properly.
"I am appalled that the School Board, City Council, the school district and the mayor’s office aren't all involved," Bryant wrote.
"How bad does it have to get to get your attention?"
Duluth police increased the number of officers at or near schools Monday after continued talk about the threat of violence.
There have been no specific threats or incidents, said Jim Hansen, Duluth police spokesman.
“There have been rumors of violence floating around many area schools, none of which have been substantiated,” Hansen said. “We have substantial resources deployed at the schools as well as investigating behind the scenes. We have a presence at or near all schools.”
Ed Crawford, assistant superintendent of the Duluth district, confirmed that no specific threats had been received.
Caban stood in the lobby at Denfeld on Monday afternoon with a group of other students who didn’t want to be named. They were waiting for buses to take them home at the end of the school day.
Caban said she can’t skip school despite her fears because she wants to graduate.
“I have to go to school,” she said. “I don’t want to, because I don’t feel safe.”
There has been a stepped-up presence of police patrols at the school since Friday and police cars were near the school at the beginning of the day and as school let out for the day.
The shooting in Connecticut also has students on edge, Caban said.
“So many students are talking about how paranoid they are,” she said.
When fears swelled earlier this year about fights and threats at the school, Principal Sconiers held public meetings during parent-teacher conferences. School police officer Jason McClure said the meetings helped clear the air, along with more efforts to move loitering students from hallways.
Caban said there should be more meetings to allow students to talk about the rumors at Denfeld.
“They should have in-school meetings,” she said. “Can’t they take just 30 minutes out of the day and talk to us?”
“There is no evidence that anything is going to happen at Denfeld to jeopardize the safety of students and staff,” Sconiers wrote in a letter to parents sent home with students last week.
“It’s frustrating as a parent to have kids come home and say they were afraid or couldn’t focus,” Hendrickson said. “But this is not just an issue within the schools. There is a lot of gang activity around the whole drug issue. Something has to be done.”
Gronseth said the district takes all threats seriously and investigates all reports and rumors. When asked how he felt about parents keeping their children home in light of rumored threats, he said:
“When talking to parents I let them know the steps to ensure (student) safety and why we feel they are safe,” he said. “There is no 100 percent guarantee in anything. It’s up to the parent to make the determination to do what they feel is necessary for their own children.”