Outraged parents in Trussville are planning to gather at the next city council meeting to address issues following the discovery of a "death notebook" that was kept from them for nearly a year.
The issue has brought to light many other safety issues involving schools in Trussville and administration within the school system.
The notebook was first discovered during the 2021-22 school year. It had 40 names of people, including 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.
Police said a classmate of the student alerted school officials the student made a threat Friday, September 16, and was subsequently sent to alternative school for 20 days. Rush said he discovered the death notebook after speaking with a school counselor about the threat. Rush said he has since found a possible history of threats by the same student, dating back to 2018. He fears that if every incident is not taken seriously, one could eventually fall through the cracks.
"The proper authorities should be notified to keep our children safe anytime a threat or possible threat is made," Rush said. "We all know that school shootings happen, and so many times, the signs were there, and no one did anything about it. That's not going to be the case on my watch."
Rush said that HTHS principal Tim Salem knew about the incident in the last school year but, after looking into it, determined there was no threat to students. He said the notebook was based on the film "Death Note," in which a high school student finds a notebook that has the power to kill anyone listed in the notebook. The child's parents with the notebook were not notified after it was discovered.
For years, parents have claimed that bullying has taken place at Hewitt-Trussville High School and Hewitt-Trussville Middle School and has not been reported or appropriately addressed. During a meeting of parents Sunday, one parent said the death book incident was simply another example of the school system not being transparent and informative. It is against the school system's policy to ignore such incidents. City council member Ben Short, also a law enforcement officer, said he wants to see the school's policies regarding threats and discuss any changes that may need to be made.
Short said he met with Salem and Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill on Monday morning.
"I have a better understanding of the decisions made, right or wrong, and believe we are on the same page in reviewing our policies and procedures moving forward," Short wrote. "Our city provides sworn law enforcement officers in each of our schools to keep our students safe, and they are unable to provide the level of security that is required of them when school administration fails to notify or work with the police when situations concerning threatened bodily harm arise."
Neill helped draft a Memorandum of Understanding between the police department and the school system two years ago. In the MOU, it was clarified that the SRO is to be notified of any incidents that threaten school safety. However, Rush said he is confident his officers were never informed of the notebook. Therefore, there was no opportunity for the incident to be investigated.
Parents are now calling for Neill's resignation. Neill has not returned a phone call from 1819 News. The school system's public relations supervisor, Jason Gaston, recently resigned to work for Alabaster City Schools.
Trussville City Schools Board of Education members are virtually impossible to contact directly because the school system has refused to allow the members to have their own email addresses for public access.
City Council liaison to the schools Lisa Bright said the council is aware of the situation and is addressing it. She said there isn't a specific meeting planned on the issue, but the next city council meeting will be on Tuesday, September 27.
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