MARYSVILLE — Before a crowd of more than 200 people Saturday afternoon, JJ Frank reiterated his call for Marysville School District leaders to resign in light of racist death threats targeting students.
Frank, the executive director of the Marysville YMCA, said he was speaking as a father.
He spoke for more than 20 minutes, about the pain he felt upon hearing his children were the target of death threats at school, and of his frustrations in dealing with the district.
In December, two boys reportedly talked openly about killing Black peers during a small online group. No felony charges were filed in that case, and the boys were referred to a diversion program after the prosecutor’s office consulted with the parents of a targeted classmate.
“They said they wanted to kill,” Frank said, trailing off as he choked up with tears, “my daughter.”
The press conference came a day after hate crime charges were referred to the prosecutor’s office in a separate case, from January. According to Marysville police, a 20-year-old Lake Stevens man posted a picture of a hand holding a gun on a “juvenile’s social media account,” with the words “Killing minorities soon.” The case had been referred to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, as the suspect is a close relative of a city police officer.
Among those gathered at Saturday’s event were students, parents and activists. On the stage alongside Frank were his wife Patrice Frank, his pastor, NAACP Snohomish County Vice President Louis Harris, Jacque Julien of the Communities of Color Coalition and Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, along with his son, Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring.
JJ Frank spoke to the idea some have reportedly suggested that the students were only joking.
“Just a joke?” he said. “When a student threatens another student’s life and says that they want to kill them, that is not a joke. And when a student threatens another student’s life, that threatens all of our childrens’ lives.”
He said the school district needed to take death threats more seriously. And he claimed leaders misled him and his wife when they said the offending students were removed from school. According to JJ and Patrice Frank, they learned the students had returned to classes in the district, though apparently on a different campus, without informing parents.
In a Thursday statement to students, parents, staff and the community, acting superintendent Lori Knudson said the law prevents the district from sharing specific details about the discipline of a student. She explained that the district takes a number of steps to respond to threats. That includes 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.
The incidents confirm “the Marysville School District’s recognition and acknowledgment that racism and hate continue to exist in our community,” the letter said. “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.”
According to the district, 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. Again, the district has said it is not allowed to discuss specifics about student discipline.
At Saturday’s press conference, Harris, the local NAACP chapter’s vice president, called on local school districts to form a plan to protect students of color “now and into the future,” and to create a third party complaint reporting and investigation system in response to hate crimes. He said schools should institute a zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes, as well as any retaliation against reports of hate crimes. And he demanded that the prosecutor’s office pursue the issue as a hate crime, and to prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent that the law allows.
Patrice Frank also spoke. She talked of the exhaustion her family experienced dealing with the school district in the past four months.
“We were all screaming, in order to help them to see … we cannot tolerate death threats,” she said, “and their treatment of it has been shameful.”
JJ Frank said since students have reported the alleged hate crimes, they have further become the target of harassment and bullying.
He repeatedly called for the resignations of Knudson, Superintendent Jason Thompson and Director of Secondary Schools Rod Merrell.
If they don’t resign voluntarily, JJ Frank said he would begin pressuring the school board to fire them.
“Enough is enough,” JJ Frank shouted throughout his speech.
The crowd chanted the phrase back.
Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @zachariahtb.