The realization this week that multiple police reports were filed in recent years surrounding statements made by the former Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District employee whose alleged threat resulted in a “lock-out” of local schools Dec. 21 is alarming.
The situation offers an opportunity for law enforcement, community members and district employees to contemplate how to keep history from repeating itself. We encourage district leaders to explore policy making it abundantly clear that employees threatening violence won’t be tolerated — while, at the same time, ensure that help is available for an employee whose behavior is indicative of mental health issues.
Patrick Robinson’s arrest Dec. 21 was not the first time that authorities were notified of an alleged threat he made against community members or authorities. Three separate police reports detail apparent drunken and disorderly rants on social media or to others.
One is left to wonder not only how Robinson remained employed by RE1J for 16 years, but how he continued to serve as the district’s psychologist.
In matters of mental health, we’re reminded of the absolute worst that can happen all too frequently. Two weeks ago, a Douglas County Sheriff’s officer was killed and four others injured after attempting to coax the shooter into the care that he so clearly needed.
But what occurs when a person who’s threatened violence and has boasted about his large collection of weapons happens to be a school district employee tasked with the difficult responsibility of caring for our kids?
Apparently, the answer is much less clear. That should change. There should be a clear position of “zero tolerance” within the district that doesn’t simply end at school doors. Every district should clearly define what behaviors constitute a "threat" and how the situation will be handled. Most do, at least as they pertain to students.
RE1J has a robust policy surrounding threats emanating from students. For instance, the policy defines “an act of violence and aggression (as) any expression, direct or indirect, verbal or behavioral, of intent to inflict harm, injury or damage to persons or property.”
Yet, we find it difficult to understand how multiple instances of such behavior on the part of a district employee — granted, outside of the RE1J educational setting — could be tolerated for so long. RE1J Superintendent Doug Tredway apparently was well aware of two of those threats. In fact, he directed a parent who brought one concern to the district’s attention to notify police.
Tredway maintains he had little recourse because, until Dec. 21, none of the statements that Robinson made were on school grounds or directed at staff or students. And, apparently, no law was broken by the those statements.
Tredway told the Times that he and Robinson discussed the employee’s errant "public demeanor" following the third report to police. In our estimation, appropriate public conduct should be expected of any public servant tasked with helping ensure the health and success of students.
We recognize the gray area of the circumstance at hand. While these situations are unique, we believe that enough strong minds exist between district leaders and local law enforcement to come up with a formula for intervening in the conduct of a school employee who exhibits a pattern of behavior quite close to violating law, brags about his weapons cache, freely states his inclination to carry out acts of violence and, yet, still goes to work everyday in buildings that house hundreds of people. From all appearances, this is a person who needed help and wasn’t receiving it.
The behavior Robinson exhibited leading up to the lock-out should have been cause for alarm — on the part of law enforcement and district leaders alike, for sake of safety among students and RE1J staff members. Earlier intervention could have prevented entirely the questions and anxiety the community was subjected to when schools were locked and parents were barred from entering. It could have prevented a much worse outcome as well.
School district employees should be held to the highest of standards, and when they exhibit behavior to the contrary, clear course of action must exist.
These are the times in which we live. A quick scan of virtually any act of mass violence in recent memory offers red flags that were either ignored or not acted upon quickly enough. Schools should be the last place where safety is in question — especially surrounding an educator.
(This article represents the opinion of the Times editorial board, comprised of Editor Will Shoemaker, Publisher Chris Dickey and Staff Writers Chris Rourke and Kate Gienapp.)