Everyone in Harlem Public Schools is tired of the recent bomb threats. Students hanging out around the Harlem High School gym after school Wednesday complained about school-wide disciplinary sanctions. Parents don’t appreciate having their children’s lives threatened at worst and disrupted at best. And the administration of the schools, as well as the emergency responders from Blaine County and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, are working harder and more cohesively to put an end to the recent fiasco.
The Harlem School Board held a working meeting on Wednesday afternoon at 4 p. m. with representatives of Blaine County and Fort Belknap governments to review the bomb threats on Feb. 23 and 27, and the most recent one Monday.
The majority of the hour-and-a-half-long, taco soup-fueled meeting was spent talking about how to increase collaboration between school officials and the various area law enforcement entities, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Belknap Police Department, and how the schools could improve their performance during these crises, should another threat be called in.
Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis and Fort Belknap Police Chief Jeff Stiffarm both assured the board that they are more than willing to get together any time they need each other, like they have quite frequently over the past week-and-a-half.
Huestis, near the beginning of the meeting, explained the fruits of this collaboration thus far.
With the investigation complete, the three unnamed students — two in seventh grade and one in sixth — have been identified and charged with felonies. The investigation documents have been turned over to Blaine County Attorney Don Ranstrom’s office. The students are expected to appear in youth court in the next week or two.
Huestis explained that the FBI had gotten involved, making copies of all of the investigation documents for a U. S. Attorney to look at. If the attorney decides to pursue federal charges against the students, the state charges will be dropped, and the three students will face federal penalties.
The board held an additional closed meeting at 6 p. m. to discuss expelling the three students responsible for the past few weeks’ trouble. Board members expelled all three, until fall 2013, when they can petition the board to come back.
The trustees also discussed how well they had handled the threats they’ve already dealt with, and brainstormed ways they could have done better.
Superintendent Rhonda Baker said she thought evacuating the students to the bus barn plan worked well because the district was aware of who used the building and for what. The building was large enough to hold the hundreds of students they needed to house, while remaining small enough to easily monitor activity.
Blaine County Commissioner Dolores Plumage told the board that she had heard complaints about the lack of water, seating and food for diabetic staff who require the additional blood sugar.
Trustee Donald Long Knife said the school could bus all of the children to the Red Whip Recreation Center on Fort Belknap’s college campus.
Blaine County Superintendent Lisa Stroh expressed concerns about keeping all of the children in one place, in case a bomb threat was merely a ploy to have all the students gathered in single place that a bomb would be more effective. Stroh suggested the board look into housing groups of students in various churches around Harlem, so students would be separated into a manageable number and placed somewhere with better amenities than a bus garage, somewhere with fewer diesel fumes.
Duane Buck, whose granddaughter attends Harlem schools, told the board he was more concerned with how law enforcement had handled their investigation. Buck was upset that his granddaughter had been interrogated because she was seen on a security tape walking the halls, and he was neither notified beforehand or present for the questioning.
Michelle Lewis, vice-chair of the board, agreed, telling attendees at the meeting about an elementary student who had been served a subpoena to testify in court as a witness. This scares the children, who tend to then believe that they themselves are in big legal trouble, enough to have a police officer take them out of class, Lewis said.
By the end of the meeting, the agreed path forward seemed to be to try to have greater law enforcement presence at the school, if Huestis can spare an officer and the district writes up the necessary agreements, and to do their best to convey to these students the massive cost and trouble that bomb threats incur.