District 65 parents, officials spar over handling of alleged gun violence threat


Daily file photo by Courtney Morrison

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren attends a meeting. In response to a parent saying Dewey Elementary School officials mishandled a gun violence threat, Goren defended the work of District 65 senior staff.

Ryan Wangman, Reporter

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 parents and staff argued over an Evanston man’s allegations that school officials mishandled a threat of gun violence against his daughter at a district meeting last week.

Chris Dillow, whose daughter is in third grade at Dewey Elementary School, said during the meeting’s public comment portion that another Dewey student had threatened to shoot his daughter with a rifle and bullied her into staying silent about the threat for two weeks. He called school and district response to the incident “woefully inadequate and negligent.”

The matter first attracted public attention on Dec. 14, when Steph Meyers, Dillow’s wife, made a post on her blog on the issue that was widely shared over Facebook among members of the community. In the post, Meyers wrote that Dewey Principal Andalib Khelghati “brushed (the threat) off as no big deal” without consulting anyone else. She also expressed concern that Sandy Hook shooting and increased gun violence in Chicago could potentially lead to violence in District 65 schools.

“Given the wanton disregard to our child’s safety demonstrated to us by the leadership of the school and school district, it became apparent to us that our district is ill prepared to deal with the real threat of gun violence in our schools,” Meyers wrote. “It’s up to us to hold our school leadership accountable to keep our children safe.”

Khelghati could not be reached for comment.

Some parents took issue with the language in Meyers’ post. Susan Trzaskus, who has a daughter at Dewey, said she thought Meyers’ portrayal of the event was “unethical and immoral,” and thought it was unfair to the student accused of the threat, whom she described as a “young and vulnerable boy of color.” She took particular offense to Meyers’ comparison of the situation to the Sandy Hook shooting.

“The use of social media has changed the narrative of a special needs child of color who somehow felt wronged and in return threatened a white girl on the playground (into) one of the terror and threat (directed at) the entire school,” Trzaskus said.

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren said he supported the way school officials handled the incident.

Goren said at the meeting that in general, in situations such as these, the school principal would interview the involved students to verify if the threat was credible and if the student was capable of carrying out that threat. He said the principal could seek help from the Evanston Police Department, if necessary, and would also inform administrators at the district’s central office of the situation. He did not say if this was exactly how Dewey faculty responded to the incident.

“I do trust the work of our principals and our assistant principals, our principals like Mr. Khelghati, and the senior staff here,” Goren said. “I trust that they are focused on the care and tending of our children.”

A statement released on the District 65 website said both a school support staff and leadership team as well as the Evanston Police Department all concluded the threat of violence was not credible.

“We can learn from incidents like this,” Goren said. “We will continue to focus on what we can do to support our children and all of our families (and) to address the issues that are being brought up tonight.”

Betsy Lehman, a Dewey parent, said she supported the way Khelghati approached the issue and urged people not to rush to judgement.

“Do we really want a school system that immediately turns to the police in a situation where a qualified and respected school leader has determined that there is not an imminent threat? I would forcefully argue that we do not,” Lehman said.

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