Texas girl scared of school shootings was punished
DALLAS — The 13-yearold girl was in gym class when she said she heard a boy tell another classmate, “Don’t come to school tomorrow.”
She didn’t think much of it at first.
But by the end of the school day, the eighth grader couldn’t stop turning those words over in her head. After all, her childhood has been punctuated by shootings: Newtown when she was a toddler. Parkland when she was in elementary school. Uvalde, last year, when 19 children and two teachers were gunned down 384 miles from her school.
The sentence — “Don’t come to school tomorrow” — sounded scary, one of those warning signs people reconsider after something bad happens. It kept bouncing through her mind as she packed up her journals and climbed into her grandpa’s car for the drive home. She decided to tell her friends what she heard in gym class and what she thought it could mean.
“this is genuinely scaring the sh— out of me,” she messaged half a dozen friends in her group chat at 4:42 p.m. Then, one minute later, “lets see if i can tell my mom without crying.”
The fallout from these messages would upend the next several weeks of the girl’s life, derailing her education and shaking her sense of self. The Dallas Morning News is not naming the girl because she is a minor.
Lisa Youngblood was on a Zoom meeting when her daughter got home on that late January day. The girl texted her that she really needed to tell her about something that happened at school.
It was important. Youngblood muted her meeting. “Come here,” she texted back. “You can tell me now.” Together, they prepared to report their concern to Lewisville’s Lakeview Middle School.
Before they could dial the number, Youngblood’s phone rang. It was the assistant principal, who had already gotten wind of the situation. She listened to the girl’s story on the phone, and a school police officer started an investigation.
Police quickly determined the boy alleged to have made the comment did not have access to a gun, according to a Jan. 26 incident report. There was no threat to campus.
Relieved, Youngblood’s daughter felt OK when she went to school the next morning.
Then, as her first-period science class discussed the periodic table, she was called to the office.
The assistant principal determined the girl had made a false accusation about school safety. Her punishment would be three days of suspension followed by 73 days — the rest of eighth grade — in an alternative school.
At a time when schools, and children, are told to stay vigilant to prevent the next shooting, Lewisville ISD’s response exposed the Black eighth grader to a level of harsh discipline that research shows has a disproportionate impact on children of color and potentially devastating effects as students navigate the beginning of their lives.
Lewisville school officials declined to speak specifically about the girl’s case, citing federal privacy laws and an ongoing grievance. But Director of Student Services Rebecca Clark said in a statement that it would be “grossly inaccurate to say the district has ever punished a student for reporting a safety concern.”
Administrators have “considered disciplinary consequences when students have spread rumors rather than following the appropriate steps to notify a trusted adult or using LISD’s anonymous reporting options to report concerning statements they may have heard,” Clark said.
Youngblood refused to send her daughter to the alternative school while she appealed the administration’s decision. Instead, the girl completed as much work as she could at home.
“One thing I’m not going to do is send my child to the prison pipeline,” Youngblood said in an interview. An African American mother, Youngblood felt like she was watching long-documented racial disparities in school discipline come for her family.
Youngblood provided The News with copies of her daughter’s text messages, audio from recorded phone calls and appeals hearings with school administrators, and dozens of pages of district documents.
Education advocates see the Youngbloods’ case as a striking example of the way administrators can dole out severe discipline in response to school violence fears: Here, a barely teenage girl tried to report a comment that concerned her, then faced a lengthy punishment stemming from the way she went about it.
While an investigation centered around what middle schoolers said or did is inherently fraught, the impact of assigning harsh discipline to children can lead to painful, long-lasting emotional and academic consequences.
“Discipline that takes a girl out of her school has been shown to lead to poor outcomes,” said Rebecca Epstein, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality’s Initiative on Gender Justice & Opportunity at Georgetown Law.
Epstein is the lead author of a study of “adultification” bias against Black girls. Adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers, the report found, especially in elementary and middle school. The report suggests this form of bias may be the reason Black girls are more likely to be disciplined for subjectively-defined violations.
Lewisville ISD spokeswoman Amanda Brim said the district “cannot treat a threat to a campus with anything less than the full weight of a police response and code of conduct consequences.”
Students should report a concerning comment as soon as it happens, she added, so administrators can act.
“It is not OK for students — intentionally or not — to cause a disruption to the educational environment of hundreds of their classmates by spreading rumors,” she said in a statement.
During the Feb. 8 appeals hearing, they listened as Lakeview Assistant Principal Sharla Samples laid out her reasoning for assigning the girl to alternative school.
Samples described fielding reports from students who heard what happened in gym class via the middle school grapevine. When the girl alerted her friends in two group chat messages, some of those friends told their parents and some of those parents called the police or the school.
Samples said the girl had several hours to report her concerns via the school’s tip line or the district’s anonymous threat reporting app, STOPit, which is promoted to students. By texting friends about it instead, Samples said, the girl had a “great impact.”
“Several people were scared about the safety of the school because her messages started spreading. Communication had to be sent out to the whole school community … which in itself worried some parents,” the administrator said, according to a recording of the hearing.
The boy’s family grew concerned for his well-being at the school, she said, and the campus increased police presence the day after the girl’s report.
Samples acknowledged in the hearing that the girl had no malicious intent, a clean disciplinary record and was “historically an upstanding student.” The 5Ð7Ð girl with curls usually moved quietly through Lakeview’s halls with her white hoodie and platform Converse.
Shortly after her first appeal, Youngblood opened her email to find a decision: Principal Deister reduced the punishment. She determined the girl should spend 30 days in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, Texas’ moniker for alternative schools.
That would not stand for Youngblood. She appealed her daughter’s punishment a second time, and the school district walked it back. The girl could return to eighth grade at Lakeview.
A district committee of non-Lakeview administrators determined “the student did not intend to cause the disruption that resulted,” according to a Feb. 17 letter.