PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A handful of parents demonstrated outside Nathanael Greene Middle School Thursday morning, one week after the school had a lockdown after an administrator thought they saw a student with a weapon.
No weapon was found, but the incident led Mayor Jorge Elorza to call for the principal’s firing earlier this week, citing an “unacceptable” delay in notifying police of the possible threat.
Target 12 first reported on the delay on Wednesday.
“I think after last night, we’re kind of all outraged, we knew about the incident already and about other violent incidents that have occurred here, but we didn’t know about the lack of response,” said Ashley Perry, the parent of a 7th-grade student.
Parents also voiced their concerns Wednesday night during a virtual meeting with R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, Superintendent Javier Montañez and city leaders, including Elorza and Police Chief Hugh Clements.
“This is not a safe environment for kids to come to school,” Perry added. “My kids tell me they don’t feel safe coming to school. And if this was any other setting, I would be a bad parent for sending my child somewhere where they don’t feel safe. But because this is school, I’m supposed to send my child here.”
According to a Providence Police memo obtained by Target 12, an administrator thought they saw a student with a gun on surveillance video on Thursday around 1:05 to 1:10 p.m., but police were not called to the school at the time.
Instead, at 2:29 p.m. the principal called the district’s director of operations, who was at another city school and happened to be with officers, who radioed for officers to go to the school.
Elorza said in light of the school shooting in Texas, and the fact an unloaded gun was found at the same school in April, there’s no excuse for the delay.
“School administrators determined at about 1:05 or 1:10 that there might be a gun in the school,” Elorza said Wednesday. “Yet they did absolutely nothing for about an hour and 15, hour and 20 minutes. That’s unacceptable. They put our kids at risk, they put our administrators at risk, they put our teachers at risk.”
He wrote a letter to Infante-Green calling on the principal to be fired. Infante-Green has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the letter.
In an interview Wednesday, Dr. Montañez said the lockdown was precautionary, and the administrator was not sure what the object was that he saw.
“They’ve been having problems with phones, so they didn’t know what it actually was,” Montañez said. “In an abundance of caution … they were trying to figure out what was going on.”
He did not dispute the timeline of events in the police report, which was repeated by Elorza in a letter to Infante-Green.
But in a joint statement with the Providence Teachers Union, Montañez and the union said they “strongly disagree” with Elorza’s summary of events.
Asked to elaborate on the disagreement, spokesperson Nick Domings said, “The mayor claimed that “absolutely nothing” was done for over an hour, which is patently false. Building administrators were working that entire time to assess the situation and determine whether there was any safety concern.”
“Any incident of violence in our school communities is unacceptable,” the joint statement read. “Similarly and equally critical, any dereliction of duty and responsibility by adults in the school building is also completely unacceptable.”
“We will not let a contentious meeting distract us from the goal at hand. We’ve seen our district sidetracked too many times over disagreements between elected officials and educators – every time students
are the ones that suffer,” the statement continued.
The superintendent and union said the school principal, Dr. Demetri Sermons, has “strong support” from his staff.
“We want to be clear that the administrators are reviewing this incident, and the District does not comment on ongoing Human Resources matters,” the statement read.
The superintendent said there would be retraining for all school administrators on emergency protocols, and security would be reviewed at every school over the next ten days.