Two seventh-grade students have been suspended for the rest of the school year for their roles in a bomb hoax that led to the evacuation of Wayne M. Henkle Middle School last Thursday.
It was the second time in nine days that a White Salmon Valley School was evacuated as the result of discovery of a bomb threat written in a bathroom.
One student, a 17-year-old Columbia High School male student, was suspended indefinitely by CHS Principal Tim McGlothlin for writing "Bomb in School" on a boys bathroom mirror. That student was later arrested and now faces criminal prosecution.
A third incident last Friday, in which the word "bomb" was penciled on a CHS boys bathroom wall, was dismissed as a prank by school authorities, who took no disciplinary action against the male student.
The two middle school students were not so lucky.
Henkle Principal Mary Alice Wagner last week discharged the two girls, ages 13 and 12, for the remainder of the school year after each admitted responsibility for penciling "Bomb in School" on bathroom stall walls in a girls restroom in the building's seventh- and eighth-grade wing.
Wagner said she suspended the girls for violating the school's "dangerous behavior" policy and in accordance with its discipline matrix.
The students' parents were informed of the long-term suspensions in writing, Wagner said. She added that both students have the right under school policy to appeal for readmission to the school board of directors.
"Im'pretty sure the parents are going to appeal," she remarked.
According to school policy, a student and the parents have three school business days after receipt of the suspension notice to submit a written request for a hearing.
The "Appeals" section of the policy states: "A student will be given an opportunity to contest the facts leading to corrective action or punishment, to contest the appropriateness of the corrective action or punishment imposed by a disciplinary authority, or to allege prejudice or unfairness for the corrective action or punishment."
In addition, the students could be subject to criminal prosecution by the state for their actions.
"It just absolutely made no sense to me," she said of the incident that prompted the evacuation. "It's such a disruption to the entire school. And because we had to send our kids home earlier than usual, it disrupted (the bus schedules) for the high school and the elementary school too."
As a consequence of the unscheduled bus runs, regular routes for elementary students were set back an hour and a half.
According to Wagner, a student discovered the "Bomb in School" message on the stall door shortly after 1:30 p.m., during the break between third and fourth periods.
She immediately reported her finding to the school office.
After inspecting the message, Wagner said she pulled the fire alarm at 1:37. By 1:40, students and staff in both wings of the school had left the building. They subsequently were moved to the CHS gym.
Pursuant to the school's evacuation plan, Wagner notified police, the district office and the district transportation supervisor of the discovery.
"You never know if it's true or not," she said of threats to student safety. "You just have to go into it thinking that it's real and do the drill by the book."
Police and school authorities searched the building for proof of a threat before concluding it was a hoax.
However, they were able to find "some evidence of similar writings and went to the high school gym and separated the seventh- and eighth-grade girls (from the rest of the assembly) for interviewing," Wagner said.
"I was impressed with how thorough and professional the police were. Before three o'clock they knew who it was," she added.
The two suspect students were singled out by authorities, but both girls initially denied involvement and were allowed to go home.
Later on Thursday, however, one student confessed responsibility for her actions to a parent, then to police. The other admitted her participation the following day at school when school officials called her to the main office for further questioning.
According to Wagner, the students were excused to go to the bathroom during their third-period language arts class, which was meeting outdoors last Thursday.
Wagner noted the girls were out of class for about 10 minutes.
As a consequence, she said, the teacher of the class was verbally reprimanded for "an error in judgment" in permitting two students out of class at the same time, contrary to the school's unwritten policy for excused absence from class.
Wagner noted, however, that something positive came from the negative experience.
"We've never had to go through the full nine yards of evacuating the building," she said. "But it went like clockwork and showed that our plan works. We know now we're prepared in the event of a serious situation."