It’s been a rough week at Carmel High School.
Several incidents have occurred since Feb. 8, beginning when a male student threatened a female student with a knife in a bathroom, that have left some parents concerned about school safety and response.
Some of the other alarming incidents since then include:
- A texting thread that led to rumors about a planned school shooting.
- A student with a medical emergency on a bus was transported by ambulance to a hospital.
- A student suffered a severe finger injury in shop class.
- Images of a student with ammunition circulated on social media.
- A special needs student having a behavioral struggle was physically restrained in the lunch room.
- And another student was found in possession of a knife and taken into custody.
Individually, each incident may have not been noticed by many. But combined, they’ve led to increased tension at CHS and among parents. Not surprisingly, a Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people has added to the concern in Carmel.
CCS officials and police said at no point was there a credible safety threat to the student body. CHS Principal Tom Harmas sent an email to CHS parents about the school safety rumors on the afternoon of Feb. 14, and he followed it up the morning of Feb. 15 with a video message outlining some of the incidents and urging everyone to “take a second to breathe.”
Yet, for some parents, the message had the opposite effect.
“It was almost like he was belittling the parents and students for their concern and trying to downplay things,” said Susan Stahly, a Carmel resident and mother of three students in Carmel Clay Schools. “That’s why I question if we know the whole story.”
Michelle DuVal was hesitant about sending her son, a junior at CHS, to school Feb. 15 but allowed him to go. She encouraged him to run out the door if he felt he was in danger at any time. She said social media has led to many of the incidents being overblown, but she said she felt the initial response from Harmas was condescending, especially in light of the school shooting in Florida.
“We wanted a little hand-holding. We wanted someone to stand with us and say, ‘We’re just as outraged as you. We feel terrible, we’re going to make sure our students are safe,’” DuVal said. “Basically, what he did was thank us and say we’re blowing it out of proportion, and I did not appreciate that.”
DuVal said she believed the communication process improved later in the afternoon, as Harmas sent out another statement soon after the school day ended Feb. 15 outlining what happened that day with the restraint of the special needs student in the cafeteria and the student found with a knife.
CCS spokeswoman Courtney Taylor said she and other district officials have been handling parent calls all day.
“I have a sense that people are starting to calm down after (Dr. Harmas’ second Feb. 15) message,” she said. “There are a lot of supportive messages, and I know people are glad that we’re offering transparency.”
When asked if Harmas was available for an interview to address the incidents and response, Taylor provided the following statement.
“We truly appreciate all feedback and insight that has been given to us by parents, students, staff and the community,” she stated. “Our goal continues to be delivering accurate information to our stakeholders in a timely manner. We plan to use this feedback as a learning tool to improve our method of delivery of communication to students, staff, parents and the community.