The superintendent of Arlington public schools has ordered a review of notification protocols after families learned from news reports last week about an argument between a parent and the principal at an elementary school during which the father allegedly mentioned firearms.
In a statement released Monday evening, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie stressed that in reviewing last Wednesday’s incident at Stratton Elementary School, “we firmly believe that our children are safe in the Arlington public schools.”
However, she added, “if we do not properly communicate, even once, with our school parents, they will not feel safe, regardless of our physical security measures.”
Bodie’s statement came days after a Stratton parent, Robert Goodwin, 40, allegedly displayed his firearms license during an argument with principal Michael Hanna and said that he had access to guns in his home, Arlington police said.
A working telephone number for Goodwin could not be located Monday night, and he did not respond to an e-mail inquiry. He has not been charged with any crime.
On Friday, the Police Department suspended Goodwin’s gun license and had him surrender his firearm. He was also issued a no-trespass order covering Stratton Elementary’s grounds, and officers were stationed at the school Thursday and Friday, police said.
Police were notified about the incident on Thursday morning, Chief Frederick Ryan said last week. However, by Friday afternoon, after news reports emerged, school officials had not notified parents about the argument or the safety precautions that were taken, including having officers posted at the school.
On Monday, Bodie said that while there is a notification plan in place for major emergencies, “we need to remove the gray area when it comes to notifying the community about events that happen after school or that do not involve direct threats and violence, as well as events that require police involvement.”
Bodie said those procedures will be updated immediately, and district officials will review how to handle incidents that occur when a school leader or administrator is absent. Bodie said she was out of state for a family function when last week’s altercation occurred.
“But that should be no excuse for a lack of proper communication,” Bodie said. “We will develop a black-and-white set of rules and a culture of ‘when in doubt, notify’ when it comes to communication.”
Paul Schlichtman, an Arlington School Committee member, welcomed the call for a review and expressed concern that parents first learned of the Stratton incident through news reports.
“That is not a good thing,” he said. “You always want the first communication to come from the School Department.”
Schlichtman also credited school officials with handling the initial incident properly and notifying police to keep “both our employees and children safe” at Stratton Elementary.
“It was just the notification” of parents that was lacking, he said.
Another School Committee member, Jennifer Susse, expressed support for the review in an e-mail but declined further comment. Other members of the panel either could not be reached or declined to discuss the matter.