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12-year-old Sarasota County student Baker Acted, anxieties swirl during public meeting

Written by on Thursday, August 24, 2023

On his listening tour throughout Sarasota County, Superintendent Terrence Connor responded to anxieties and fear over a 12-year-old public school student suspected of planning to cause harm to his former teachers.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: August 23, 2023

 

Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: A baptism by fire of sorts, it was yesterday evening for Terrence Connor. His listening event in Venice for the new Sarasota Schools Superintendent turned into a channel for anxiety after a 12-year-old was taken into custody because he apparently planned to kill teachers at his former elementary school. Ramon Lopez was in Venice yesterday night.

Host: Terrence Connor, the brand new Superintendent of Sarasota County Schools, launched his so-called listening tour at Venice High School on Tuesday night, part of his 100-day plan to learn about the school district. One of four scheduled sessions, he met with teachers and other school personnel first, then with parents and the public afterwards.

Whereas the discussion was expected to revolve around the basic ABCs of education, Connor got an earful from an upset parent of a school child and the husband of a threatened teacher. For certain, school safety was on the mind of the 60 to 70 parents attending the public meeting at the high school.

Connor was grilled because a 12-year-old Sarasota middle school student is in custody under the Baker Act. This, and county deputies found evidence that he had mapped out Lakeview Elementary, showing the location of security cameras and the whereabouts of specific teachers. The boy, whose name was not revealed by police because he is a minor, was suspended from Sarasota Middle School on August 17. He was observed by a school resource officer allegedly mimicking the cocking of a shotgun, the latest in a series of behavior problem indications.

Records show the school police then asked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a threat assessment at the student’s home. The parents consented to the search. Deputies found multiple unsecured firearms inside the house. They also found two maps of Lakeview Elementary, the boy’s former school.

According to WWSB TV News, deputies say the boy pinpointed the location of school security cameras and two specific teacher’s classrooms where he wrote “destroy teacher” and “eliminate teacher.” Names of the threatened teachers were not disclosed. The TV news report said police, after finding guns in the home said, “It appears the threat of violence against others has increased based on the respondent drawing on a map of a school where, it appears, he intended to cause great bodily harm to staff and or students.”

The sheriff’s office filed a temporary ex parte risk protection order to remove all firearms and ammo from the house. The order was reportedly signed August 18 by Sarasota County Circuit Judge Thomas Krug. WWSB reported that officials said the student was transported to Bayside Center for Behavioral Health for treatment.

The sheriff’s office would only say that it “assisted the Sarasota County School’s police departments in reference to this report. This matter was investigated jointly and it was determined that no criminal charges were committed. However, the juvenile was taken into protective custody per the Baker Act.”

Sarasota County Schools said threat assessment teams have met and safety plans are in place. All Sarasota County schools have a single point of entry, all the doors are locked and campuses are monitored 24 hours a day through video surveillance. “We will have additional law enforcement officers and security monitors stationed on campus.”

Superintendent Terrence Connor discussed the incident at Venice High Tuesday night. His remark followed revelation of details of the incident from a concerned parent with a daughter at Lakeview Elementary, and from the husband of one of the allegedly targeted teachers. They provided to Connor and the others in the high school cafeteria more information than so far disclosed by school officials and county deputies.

The father, who did not want to be identified in this report, spoke out, saying the police response to the incident is too little and too late.

Unnamed Father: The response should be measured to the severity of the [unintelligible]. I went into the school today, one extra police officer on campus is not sufficient in my estimation.

Host: His comment drew a statement from Superintendent Connor.

Terrence Connor: First and foremost, I want to say that our police department does a fantastic job. I won’t add on to the specifics of the investigation, don’t need to, obviously. But if it hadn’t been for the protocols and procedures sets forth by our safety department that led to us identifying this particular map in question, what it tells me, it verifies and confirms that our procedural policies are working and they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

I understand that there’s a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot of stress around the situation. As the father of a student who goes to Sarasota Middle, you know, it’s real for me. And so I can connect to that stress level. I think what we do in terms of communicating, and it’s never going to feel sufficient when you’re not able to say specific information and things that people want to hear. Because it involves your child, and that’s totally understandable, when it comes to the safety of students.

Host: The husband of the affected Lakeview Elementary teacher, who also did not want to be identified in this news report, is also unhappy with what happened.

Unnamed Husband: My wife had this student two years ago. The student has had many problems and he has been a problem since kindergarten, actually. This past week, he’s now two years older and attended Sarasota Middle School. At the middle school, he made hand and gun gestures at the middle school, and that’s when the SRO and the police called in to go do an assessment at the house.

When they’re at the house, they found unattended guns, unlocked up guns that did belong to the father, as well as, they were searching the house, found a map. On the map was cameras circles, classrooms circled, and the classrooms that were circled. one of which was my wife’s classroom.

So we’re in the middle of this situation right now with the school and the law enforcement. I do believe they’re trying to do everything they possibly can, but they are obviously bound by the law and running into those things. So right now, with the School Board, again, as I said, there’s multiple levels here.

One of the unfortunate levels here is the sibling’s, the boy’s sibling, sister, is currently in my wife’s class. The reason why I’m here today is we are being told by the School Board currently that they are having trouble, or I guess, for lack of better words, to move that daughter out of my wife’s class because of her rights. She’s distraught.

The other layer to this is my kids go to the school. Yes, my kids are there too. And they’re in classrooms as well. So we have not been back to school in the past two days. My wife is beside herself, so am I. We are trying to let, or we are letting law enforcement and school board do their jobs, but we are hitting rock walls right now and not seeing the results that we should be seeing, we believe.

Host: In response, Connor said he sees the man’s frustration. He said, he’s been on the receiving end before as a school administrator. I can sympathize with you, he added, saying we need to make sure all students, teachers, school staff and parents feel as safe as possible. What is clear from Connor’s listening tour is that school security and safety is a priority concern.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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