Shrum insists schools are safe despite hoax, molestation case

A Visalia teen is arrested after posting a false school shooting threat, gives the district more incentive to focus on student involvement

VISALIA – After a school shooting threat over the weekend and the arrest of the Mt. Whitney campus supervisor last week, Visalia Unified School District Superintendent Kirk Shrum will cover safety and security at the next board meeting on April 25.

Over the weekend, a high school student was arrested for posting about a school shooting on Redwood High School’s campus, which turned out to be a hoax. The 16-year-old boy has since been arrested, but copy cat posts continued to float around social media. They boy was booked into the juvenile hall detention facility for criminal threats and making a false report of an emergency. The Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) did their best to be transparent throughout the incident, but did see attendance down at school on Monday regardless.

“In this day and age, [threats] cause disruption, they cause fear and that’s why it’s simply unacceptable,” Shrum said. “And I think my message would be we’re going to pursue this until we have found every single person responsible. We’re not going to stop because we want to make sure other people are not encouraged to do the same thing.”

On Saturday April 22, a social media post was circulating indicating a shooting would take place on Monday. Shrum said the “see something say something” approach went into full swing and he applauded the Visalia Police Department for their efforts in the case. He said the way this particular event was handled was “almost textbook” because it did not take very long after the threat was discovered to determine that the threat was not legitimate. Investigators were then able to find and arrest the suspect.

“Our schools are very safe, so it’s unfortunate that there becomes a perception [that they are not safe],” Shrum said. “But I think as we have seen in this day and age, things can happen anywhere at any time and schools still remain some of the safest places for kids to be.”

As this threat happened over the weekend, Shrum said they did see a decrease in attendance in the schools that were targeted in the social media posts. Administrators were on different campuses Monday morning and extra social workers and counselors were dispatched to each site that was affected.

“We’re fortunate to have a huge team of support staff that kind of jump in to intervene with things like that, so that was a big help this morning,” assistant superintendent of educational services, Andy Di Meo said.

Social media has changed quite a bit about social norms and how children and teens behave. Shrum said the best way to handle issues like this is through education, even starting as young as elementary school age. Shrum said the district hopes to create a plan or program that will work with students who can help other students understand the importance of the dangers of social media, and “knowing your worth beyond a device.”

Di Meo’s team has been working to create this program which will hopefully be implemented next year. Shrum said with the strong student leadership they have on campus, he is confident they will be able to find a solution.

“So part of this is working with talking to the kids on how we get them involved in solutions,” Shrum said. “We have great leadership on our school campuses by our students and I’m really confident that we’re going to be able to find some good solutions.”

The recent events give the district more of an incentive to push for the “One Visalia Connected” idea and continue to involve students in as many ways as they can. Di Meo said they have been doing a good amount of data analysis  comparing students who are engaged in school and those that are not. This approach incentivises administrators to find outside of the box ways to connect children to school so that they are more engaged. The district is hopeful instances like this over the weekend will lessen even more.

According to a press release from the Visalia Police Department, there will be an increased law enforcement presence throughout all VUSD campuses this week.

“The safety of our children is our first priority and anything that threatens that will not be tolerated,” the release stated.

On April 19, Visalia Police Department officers were called to Mt. Whitney High School for a report of a school employee having an inappropriate relationship with a student. Youth services officers were then called and they took over the investigation. Officers found that a 15-year-old girl had been exchanging nude photos and videos with Jones. Officers also learned Jones had touched the girl inappropriately. Officers are working closely with VUSD to ensure the safety of other students by the apprehension of Jones.

Last week on April 20, Mt. Whitney campus supervisor Dejaun Jones, 37, was taken into custody, transported and booked into the Tulare County Adult Pretrial facility for annoying, molesting a minor, sending harmful material to seduce a minor and child molestation. Jones was immediately put on administrative leave.

Shrum said they did everything they were supposed to, and the police department came in and took over where they were supposed to. After the arrest, the district and school employees focus their attention on the students to make sure everyone is okay. Jones was a coach, so Mount Whitney’s principal met with the team as soon as possible to reassure students and parents and also make sure no one else was a victim.

“This was another case of somebody seeing something or, or thinking something or knowing something, and they said something,” Shrum said. “So the minute that we the administration or the school received word…an investigation began. And again…when it looked like this was going to be something not appropriate and against the law, law enforcement took over the investigation.”

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