Marysville school leaders take heat over racist death threats

The district responded in a letter, saying the accused teens no longer have contact with their peers.

MARYSVILLE — A group of parents has called for the resignation of leaders in the Marysville School District following multiple death threats made against students of color in two separate incidents in recent months.

According to the targeted families and NAACP Snohomish County, two boys who made the racist threats are still in school.

But in a letter sent Thursday, the district wrote that the “disciplined students” are now in a separate program “outside of school,” where they have no contact with other students during in-person or online class time. It was not clear when that decision was made. The district has said it is not allowed to discuss specifics about student discipline.

Superintendent Jason Thompson is on medical leave. It is not clear when he will return. Acting Superintendent Lori Knudson has taken over his responsibilities. Knudson signed the Thursday letter, acknowledging that “racism and hate continue to exist in our community.”

“When incidents occur, the law prevents us from sharing specific details involving the discipline of students,” the letter reads. “But what we can do is make you aware of how the school district responds when a threat or hate incident occurs.”

Those steps, according to the letter, include notifying the police, conducting a threat assessment, creating a safety plan, assigning discipline according to law, providing services and resources for safety to victims, and providing services and resources for perpetrators.

Hours earlier, on Wednesday evening, activists and parents of the targeted students called for the resignations of Thompson, Knudson and Director of Secondary Schools Rod Merrell. That news release was sent by JJ Frank, who has two children in Marysville schools.

“Only after we tell the truth in the public does this administration team in the Marysville School District send their spin on our pain and suffering from racist death threats,” Frank said Thursday in a written statement to The Daily Herald. “Now they have a policy to remove students who make death threats after four months of sharing our trauma to the district with no response, but lip service.”

The news release said the district has failed people of color by not keeping students safe and not protecting learning environments.

“The Marysville School District has lied to our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community about the student who is connected to two death threats and why he remains in school,” the letter alleges. “The (district) did not notify the Marysville School Board immediately when the second death threat happened that included a picture of a gun.”

The first incident occurred in December, when two boys reportedly talked openly about killing Black classmates while in a small online learning group, according to police reports filed in Snohomish County Juvenile Court.

After consulting with the parents of one of the targeted classmates, the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office opted to refer the two boys to a diversion program rather than to pursue hate crime charges. According to a legal memorandum obtained by The Daily Herald through a public records request, the parents said they felt diversion was an appropriate route, though “they did want to make sure the youth receives some form of counseling or education as to the history of slavery, racism, and the racist epithets in America (as) appropriate in this circumstance.”

In another incident, in late January, a 20-year-old Lake Stevens man posted a picture on a “juvenile’s social media account,” where the young man threatened to “kill minorities,” according to a letter signed by Marysville Police Chief Erik Scairpon, Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring and other local officials. An investigation is under way by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit.

A recent Instagram post from NAACP Snohomish County shows a photo of what appears to be a hand holding a gun, with the words, “Killing minorities soon,” printed across the bottom. The photo is faint, covered by a gray filter and bold text. A caption says it’s the image posted to social media in the second incident.

“Hate crimes in schools have serious, even deadly, outcomes,” the caption reads. “Our children are being traumatized, and are disgusted by these happenings, and the fact that the Marysville School District continues to allow this youth to be present amongst his peers shows a blatant lack of care for the safety and well being of Black and Brown students.”

A press conference has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Comeford Park, 514 Delta Ave. It was organized by families who have been targeted, as well as NAACP Snohomish County, the Snohomish County Communities of Color Coalition and the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee.

Meanwhile, in-person learning for middle and high school students in the Marysville district is set to resume April 14.

The time of Saturday’s press conference has been corrected. It is at 1 p.m.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

Full letter from the Marysville School District

Dear Students, Families, Staff, and Community Members,

The Marysville School District and our schools are excited to welcome more students in grades 6 – 12 back to school for in-person learning beginning April 14.

In recent days, information about incidents against students of color, specifically Black/African American students, was shared publicly in the news, on social media, and through community forums. These incidents included online threats made against Black/African American students and confirms the Marysville School District’s recognition and acknowledgment that racism and hate continue to exist in our community. They have further required us to recognize and take responsibility for our own learning related to racism and hate, and commit to strengthening our practices, communication, and training.

The safety of each student is a top priority. This includes physical, social, and emotional safety. We will strive to do everything in our power to make certain that each student we serve feels safe physically, socially, emotionally, and free from racial or any other forms of discrimination. We are working with student and school leaders to ensure welcoming and safe environments for secondary students when they return for in-person instruction on April 14.

When incidents occur, the law prevents us from sharing specific details involving the discipline of students, but what we can do is make you aware of how the school district responds when a threat or hate incident occurs. We:

Notify the police

Conduct a threat assessment

Create a safety plan

Assign discipline according to the law

Provide services and resources for safety to victims

Provide services and resources for perpetrators according to the law (WAC 392-400-610)

In addition, we commit to listening to, and partnering with, our students and communities of color in order to ensure emotional and safety supports are provided in a timely, culturally responsive, and effective manner.

With the work and commitment of the district and school leaders and staff, these changes are beginning to occur. Recent events around racial discrimination and hate have raised concern with parents and guardians and the community, we understand the concern regarding the safety of students. In regard to the recent incidents, to meet both the safety and the educational needs of the students we serve, the district has a process in place to meet the educational requirements of the disciplined students through a program outside of school which includes no contact with other students virtually or in person during instructional time.

I recognize that, by themselves, these acknowledgments and actions are small gestures. They become meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and informed actions. We honor our partnership with our students, families, and community and strive to raise public awareness around the steps we will continue to take action to address and prevent racial discrimination and hate in our schools.

Sincerely,

Lori Knudson

Acting Superintendent

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