After another fight at Grissom, school leaders communicate it faster to parents

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Becky Balentine, Grissom High School principal, sent an email message to parents on Tuesday telling them there was another fight on campus. This time, it rose to a level where it was considered threatening.

In the message, Balentine said one student struck an adult who was attempting to break up the fight, and another student shouted a threat concerning a firearm. She assured parents that the situation was handled, the students involved are suspended (per the controversial Behavioral Learning Guide), and there was no firearm found.

This happened not even 24 hours after a community meeting on Monday, where parents voiced concerns about student safety at the school.

One parent told school leaders at that meeting, "I want the administration or the board to come to the parents-- you send out an email every week-- and say, 'We had an issue. We thought it was a credible threat, or not, and it has been handled.'" He urged the principal to be more immediate with correspondence with parents when incidents happen at the school.

In reply, Superintendent Matt Akin told him, "We are going to do a better job of accurately and quickly communicating."

Keith Ward, Huntsville City Schools spokesman, said the faster communication after Tuesday's incident was a direct result of Akin's promise.

Balentine's message Tuesday read:

"At the Grissom High Community Meeting last night, the Superintendent and I explained that the safety of our students is our highest priority, and we committed to being as responsive and transparent as possible concerning potential threats to school safety.  In that vein, today, a group of students engaged in a fight.  During that fight, one of the students involved struck an adult who was trying to intervene, and another made a very loud threat concerning a firearm.  My team and I worked with our Campus Security Officers to break up the fight as quickly as possible.  We searched the student who made the threat.  To be clear, we found no firearm on campus.

The students involved in the fight have been disciplined following the District’s policies, and they have been suspended from school.  To reiterate our message from last night, we do not tolerate students making threats of gun violence at school.  Again, we believe that it is important to keep you informed, and we will continue to do that.

Please feel free to contact me to share any concerns."

Akin has previously stated that he must approve communications like these before they are sent out. He also agreed that the district could do better when it comes to how it handles correspondence with parents, telling us last week, "I think that's where we need to improve."

Ward said the district wants to respond faster to ease parents' minds, but also so the "rumor mill" does not spark fear in the community or distort what is really going on.

The district is evaluating communication measures not just at Grissom, but district-wide.

"There is change happening. We are working with district staff and we will be working with school staff to have methods that are improved," said Ward.