“When The Media Finds Out About This Stuff…”

I knew I was going to blog about the October 12, 2017, Wishek N.D. school board meeting when the Wishek School Board Vice-President Melissa Kaseman-Wolf addressed the room full of school patrons and said, “When the media finds out about this stuff that makes me question our patrons as a whole. Why do you want to taint our community and school this way?”

The special meeting was a result of an October 9, 2017, incident at the Wishek school where a child displayed a “track and field pistol” in class and it went unreported to law enforcement, the school board or parents by school administration until more than 24 hours later.

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Speaking in the video is Wishek School Board President Curt Meidinger, Superintendent Shawn Kuntz, and Kaseman-Wolf. You can read more about the comments made at the meeting in this news article.

According to Wishek School policy, a “weapon includes, but is not limited to knife, razor, ice pick, explosive smoke bomb, incendiary device, firearm, slingshot, bludgeon, brass knuckles or artificial knuckles of any kind or any object that can be reasonably be considered a weapon, dangerous instrument, or look-alike.”

The Wishek Police Report filed the day after the incident when they were contacted, initially by my husband, said “…it resembled a small black pistol similar to an LCP. After more examination, we were able to determine the gun was a track and field style starter pistol…”

A look-alike is a weapon as defined in the Wishek school policy and the police report confirmed it was a look-alike. My elementary daughters, who attend the Wishek school, do not know the difference and neither did classmates who saw it in gym class when a child displayed it. The teacher diffused the situation and sought help from the administration. The administration did not call law enforcement and parents were not communicated with about it.

Instead, the children went home to parents and said, “There was a gun in school today.” Slowly by parents calling one another, we pieced the story together. We thought we would have known if there was look-alike gun or weapon in school. We assumed the children saying there was a “gun” in school had the story wrong.

But they didn’t.

The lack of information caused a small social media storm on the prairie because the school didn’t inform us. Zero communication breeds panic.

27 hours after the incident an “all-call” to parents went out via text message saying “There are reports that a gun was brought into Wishek Public School. School officials are in the process of investigating and gathering necessary information.” The phone message gave reference to the track and field starter pistol.

The incident and lack of knowing escalated emotions and has caused hard feelings already. There could have been a learning and teaching experience from this for all of the children on the day of the incident. But instead, they went home scared and confused. Now many parents and patrons realize it is time for a change. This incident serves as a wake-up call for us.

At the special meeting, there were about 100 patrons in the room. The public was not allowed to address the school board. The special meeting agenda topic was safety and security. I am a patron. I also qualify as “the media” and turned on my phone to record the meeting as it started.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a passionate promoter of Wishek, rural life and our small schools. However, that does not mean I do not speak out and share about incidents. I write and speak on topics I deeply care about, both personally and professionally and have for more than a decade. Kaseman-Wolf made it clear she doesn’t want anyone using a “keyboard” about “this stuff”. But when the public fills a room in our small town and then doesn’t get to speak, they get more upset. One parent spoke out, “Tomorrow is too late.”

Many parents, including my husband and me, followed the chain of command this week, contacting administration, meeting with administration, contacting the school board, asking for a public meeting, with little information given to us. The goal of sharing about this is never to “taint” but to protect and prepare.

From my small-town experience, I know change creates conflict at times. I also know conflict is a sign of possibility for change. We cannot change what happened but we can make tomorrow better.