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Guest Letter

Joe Vidal

Principal

Thurston Middle School

Important message from Thurston Middle School Principal

The following letter was sent to the “Thurston Community” from Thurston Middle School Principal Joe Vidal on Tuesday, Dec. 28. A story appeared in Tom Johnson’s Fair Game column earlier Tuesday morning concerning an incident that happened previously with the school.

I wanted to take a moment to connect with our families before our in-person return from winter break. Last week I reached out to update our community via ParentSquare on a school violence threat that we received Saturday, December 18th. Incidents like this are alarming and naturally increase our feelings of fear and worry about school safety. I am writing to give you as much detail as I legally can, in hopes to calm your worries and assure you that we are committed to the safety of our students and staff. 

On the evening of the 18th, the Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD) stated that a community member had forwarded an image of a TMS student with the caption indicating a threat towards the school. That social media post was immediately investigated by the LBPD, who contacted the student’s family and conducted a threat assessment. Through student and parent interviews, the LBPD deemed the student’s social media post as a non-credible threat, which means that based on evidence the threat would/could not have been carried out.

Even though this threat was determined to be non-credible, our District and the LBPD take any threats of school violence extremely seriously and work collaboratively to ensure student and staff safety. To that end, we immediately implemented progressive disciplinary action, in accordance with state law and local policy and communicated to our school community in real-time. Through progressive disciplinary action, the administration will determine appropriate consequences and/or supports to help students improve their behavior while taking into account their individual circumstances. The goal is to help prevent inappropriate student behavior from happening again. Again, there was and is no safety threat related to this incident. 

As in all student discipline cases, the individual involved has confidentiality protections under federal and state law. Therefore, we will not be publicly disclosing any student-specific outcomes to this investigation or any information in relation to any criminal or school-related disciplinary action. We can assure our community that the student and family involved are fully cooperating with the school district, have been in regular dialogue with school officials and the LBPD and the family is working to support their child through this challenging situation. 

Our top priority is to provide a safe learning environment for all students and we take any threat risk extremely seriously. Extensive school and district security measures are in place to help us maintain a safe campus, with some notable examples including, but not limited to:

–District and site annual safety planning, training, and drills;

–Partnership with LBPD on the School Resource Officer (SRO) program with two dedicated SROs;

–Continuously improving site security through the implementation of Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center (OCIAC) site reviews and recommendations;

–Monitoring all district electronic communications using student/staff safety monitoring software, Securly, and responding to all security alerts;

–Implementing Text-a-Tip: 858.848.7TIP; 858.848.7847; and the adoption of our new anonymous 24/7/365 tip reporting service, WeTip 2.0 starting in 2022 and beyond;

–High visibility and support from administrators and staff throughout the school day;

–Enhancing threat assessment protocols and the risk assessment process with qualified staff; 

–School-based mental health services for students in need of support; and more. 

Our school and district maintain an ongoing commitment to welcoming an open dialogue with parents, staff, and community on the topic of school safety. On December 22, LBUSD and Thurston Administration received an anonymous parent letter that cites student-specific anti-Semitic and racial complaints and uses the December 18 incidence, as evidence of additional school safety needs. Multiple incidents contained in the letter have been investigated and addressed, and we will continue our dialogue with the community around stopping hate and racism. The authors also requested that the District and school take specific additional actions to ensure school safety, such as installing metal detectors, hiring armed security, and performing daily backpack checks. 

In response to this letter, we have been in contact with LBPD, who will maintain an enhanced police presence when we return to campus. Additionally, site administration will facilitate pre-planned assemblies with all middle school students around behavior expectations, including appropriate speech, host additional emergency training for staff aligned to our school’s safety goals, and will be inviting parents with safety concerns for an in-person forum in hopes of clarifying current needs and partnering on solutions. 

Additionally, we will have our school counseling team and student support specialists available to speak with any students in need of further support. While peer pressure may inhibit students’ timely sharing of school safety concerns, we want to encourage students to feel comfortable reporting any information they have that may compromise their safety or the safety of others with a trusted adult. In this respect, we ask for your help as parents and caregivers to also encourage your children to speak up when they see or experience something that is threatening or hateful. In any emergency situation, please call 9-1-1. Please know we handle all situations discretely, ensure confidentiality, and take all the necessary steps to prevent any forms of retaliation.

Our goal is to ensure a safe and inclusive learning community and to activate students to become global citizens and leaders. Our school community stands against all forms of hate, harassment, and discrimination. We value our partnership with parents to create a school community that celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please use this opportunity to speak with your child about the importance of school safety and the harms of anti-Semitic and racist comments. We must work together to ensure our students understand the impact of such actions, including their impact on others and the broader community.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns.

Respectfully,

Joe Vidal, Principal

Thurston Middle School