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The principal at Hewitt-Trussville High School (HTHS), Tim Salem, has been put on administrative leave after revelations he did not report a death list made by a student nearly a year ago.

Although community members had been calling for the resignation of Trussville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill, she has continued to ignore interview requests and answer questions. However, she has sent out two statements, one to the media and one to parents. The latest statement to parents announced Salem being placed on administrative leave until further notice.

"Safety remains a first priority, and your students have been and will continue to be safe at HTHS," read the statement.

Neill also included the following message from Salem to faculty and staff:

Dear HTHS Staff,

I wanted you to know that I’ll be on administrative leave effective immediately and Joy Young will be the acting principal while I am away.  We are off to such a great start to our school year and we have some important testing coming up regarding the Pre-ACT. I want everyone to continue to stay the course with teaching and learning. Mrs. Young will do a wonderful job and will have the full support of central office. It is an honor and privilege to work with all of you and I know that our students and parents are in good hands.

Sincerely,

Tim Salem

The notebook was first discovered in October 2021. It had 40 names of people, including 37 students, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and their methods of death. At that time, Trussville Police Chief Eric Rush said the police department, which provides student resource officers for the school, was not notified. Furthermore, the parents of the children on the list were not notified until last week after the same student made a second threat.

The city of Trussville held a press conference Tuesday morning to address the situation. Mayor Buddy Choat, Police Chief Eric Rush, Police Capt. Greg Cardwell, City Council liaison to the school board Lisa Bright, and Council member Ben Short all stood and took questions from the public.

As soon as police found out about the threat, swift action was taken, Choat said. However, after the notebook was discovered, Choat said it shed light on another issue.

"They started the investigation on Monday morning, and by Wednesday, everything had been resolved," said Choat. "The DA had been presented the case. The timeline was really in such a short period for us to do our job but what really hurts the whole process is the one year in between. We dodged a bullet, and I don't mean that in a threat. We dodged a situation that we don't need to have this meeting today had it been handled properly."

After the community found out about the notebook, other communication issues involving schools in Trussville and administration within the school system were brought out by parents.

Choat said the city of Trussville will continue to support public safety and school safety, but that cannot be done without communication.

"Everything was in place to handle this properly, but it was just a total lack of communication or an unwillingness or a judgment call that has been admitted to had been a mistake," said Choat.

Trussville residents, leaders pushing for change after 'death notebook' controversy sheds light on policy failures

Salem took the responsibility personally during a meeting with Choat and other city and school leaders but has not publicly spoken or taken questions.

"The principal of the high school admitted that he had the notebook and had it in a drawer," said Choat. "Nobody, and I want to emphasize nobody knew about this except three people have been confirmed to know about it but possibly a fourth. But known of those included anybody at our central office, including our superintendent."

Choat said moving forward, the school system and the city must understand that "we are in this together." He said there had been incidents in the past where parents felt the superintendent and school board were not listening to parents. He said he has tried to explain to Neill the importance of responding to those concerned.

"We always felt like that it would be best if they give some kind of response," Choat said.

As for the 11th grader who wrote the letter, he was placed in alternative school for 20 days. He was not charged with making a terroristic threat after evidence was presented to the District Attorney's office. Rush said the law states that an incident has to disrupt school to be considered a terroristic threat.

"The terroristic threat is a felony," said Rush. "I think there needs to be a Class A misdemeanor that would fit this case because my understanding from the DA's office is that it's happening more and more."

Choat said although Salem interpreted the list as a "fantasy" type list, there was no fantasy to this situation. He said going forward, he was pushing for school administrators to notify police about similar threats or concerns immediately.

Rush said he believes the school system has a plan to keep the child safe if he returns to school after the 20 days of alternative school.

Joy Young is now the acting principal at HTHS.

The Trussville Tribune live-streamed the press conference.

Parents of students planned to speak Tuesday night at the Trussville City Council meeting.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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