A student at Willard Middle School was injured in an assault that occurred in the building midday Tuesday.
The district described the incident as an assault in an email Tuesday evening but did not provide any details.
In a message sent to all Willard parents and employees, the district said it’s working with law enforcement to investigate the incident and will “take appropriate disciplinary action.”
The message stated: “As we are not legally allowed to go into extensive details, we ask for your patience in this matter.”
Dan Ortega, director of communications for the district, confirmed the incident involved two male students.
It was not immediately clear how many students witnessed the assault or its aftermath.
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Eric Wilken, assistant superintendent of operations, said top district leaders were at the middle school Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday.
“We have been discussing this continually last night, this morning. It will continue,” he said. “We are always looking to get better.”
The incident has created a firestorm on social media but Wilken said not all of the circulating details are accurate.
“When it deals with specific students, we can’t release a lot of information, which makes it tough,” he said. “If we could, and we could be 100 percent transparent, a lot of what people are hearing is false.”
Wilken, who will step into the superintendent role July 1, said the district is taking extra efforts to safeguard students.
The district has added staff and counselors to the middle school Wednesday to respond to any student with questions.
“The main thing is staff presence and structure. We want staff to be present, where the students are supervised all the time and we want structure from the time students walk into the building to when they leave,” he said.
Wilken said the safety of students and employees remains the district’s top priority.
“We take every situation very, very seriously and we’re reiterating that to them,” he said.
He said the district quickly reached out to the parents of the students involved and has kept in touch. The extent of the injury was not disclosed.
“We’re routinely checking in on the family,” he said.
The district said at least one student may face disciplinary action following the incident, as outlined by school policy.
The middle school handbook defines assault as “attempting to cause injury to another person” and the first offense triggers up to five days of out-of-school suspension.
Willard Police Chief Tom McClain said his department works closely with school police and he has been in touch with the district but is not part of the investigation.
“That incident happened quickly and was handled promptly by the school police,” he said. “The Willard police were not involved in it.”
Jackie Pyle has a child in the middle school this year and another that will be attending in the fall.
She said bullying and disruptive behavior has been an issue in the building and parents have been concerned.
“My son has been in middle school there for the seventh- and eighth-grade year and I hear numerous stories daily, weekly,” Pyle said. “This has been an ongoing problem at the middle school, so much so that they have developed … a way to try and combat what is going on, where parents can come in and volunteer to be hall monitors.”
Pyle said this school year has been chaotic and she appreciates the district’s push for parental involvement to encourage better behavior.
“We don’t know what to do. Everybody is kind of pointing the finger at somebody else – the administration, school board, teachers, the principal,” she said.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Pyle said she is planning a back-to-school prayer rally in an effort to support the middle school and other buildings this fall.
She said the goal is to create an event with multiple pastors and city leaders that is open to all of Willard.
“We want to make this a community event. We can pray for our schools and really ask God to come in and help us. We need help,” she said. “Every day we are worried about sending our kids to school.”
Lizzie Nothum, who has four children in the district, said there have been allegations of bullying, harassment, stealing and drugs at the middle school this year.
“Kids are being taken out of (the) Willard district to either homeschool or go to a different district for many reasons, bullying being at the top,” she said.
Nothum, who ran unsuccessfully for school board in April, said she is excited about the new superintendent, Wilken. She added he will bring “much needed vitality and integrity” to the district.
She has agreed to help Pyle with the prayer vigil and hopes it will be a positive step.
“Our Willard district is so loved, so that’s what is frustrating. We hate to see all of these bad things happening,” she said.
“… We can let these current issues divide us and let contention win or we can use this as an opportunity to band together and come back stronger and better as a district and community.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to [email protected]