Royal Palm Beach High School Principal Jesus Armas attended last week’s Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting to report on a high-profile stabbing incident that occurred at the school on May 25.
“There’s only so much we can talk about because it’s still under investigation,” Armas said at the June 2 meeting.
Between class periods one and two, a student was attacked with a pocket knife in one of the bathrooms. The victim was transported to St. Mary’s Medical Center, while another student was arrested and charged with attempted murder and possession of a weapon on school property.
Armas deemed it “an isolated incident.”
“There was nobody else around as far as people who were involved,” he said. “It was unfortunate that it occurred, obviously.”
Armas said that the school handles such situations first by ensuring that the campus is safe, and then communicates with parents through Twitter (@RPBHSOfficial) and a text messaging system called Remind.
“We have almost 2,000 people who follow it, and it includes students, parents, community members and anybody who wants to be on it,” he said. “This is the way I communicate with parents about lots of stuff, but during a crisis situation, I want to make sure that we communicate.”
Information is put out as soon as possible to reassure parents who are receiving reports that are sometimes inaccurate in a breaking news situation.
“Those initial reports are always all over the board, and you really just don’t know,” Armas said. “The first thing I want to do is assure the parents of what’s going on.”
School staff works with law enforcement, including the school police and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, appropriate school district personnel, and e-mails staff to update them on whether a lockdown is in effect.
“Then we begin to sort through stuff, whatever it is, and sometimes it might take 10 minutes, and sometimes it might be two hours,” Armas said.
Ultimately, an all-clear is issued by law enforcement and the principal.
“It’s my call, but school law enforcement and I all confer,” Armas said. “At that point, I let the students know, and it’s usually pretty detailed. I give them enough information to know what happened.”
On the evening after the incident, Armas followed up with a final update to parents.
“The big part for us is certainly we aren’t done,” he said. “We debrief and follow up, and in this case, make sure it was an isolated incident. We are always looking to make sure that we have done our due diligence.”
Armas said safety on campus begins with supervision and procedures to make sure that the right people are in the right places in a crisis, and that the crisis response team knows what it’s doing.
“In this situation, our response team was excellent,” Armas said. “Everybody handled the situation expertly.”
Staff and students are also taught awareness.
“We are constantly talking to students, and the main thing we are talking to our students about is letting adults know what’s going on on campus,” he said. “We have training for our teachers, and we even have parent training.”
Staff members also monitor social media, including Twitter and Snapchat, for signs of trouble.
“Often we find out about kids who are struggling in one way or another and how we can help them out,” he said. “Our people are really good about knowing what’s going on and having an ear to the ground.”
Armas said the ultimate tool is having good relationships with students.
“That’s what was so disappointing here, that we really hadn’t heard anything from the kids that anything was going on,” he said.
Armas added that the overall feeling among students was that they felt safe on campus and that stories about life on campus are often exaggerated.
“People seem to have no problem with making comments about us who really don’t know us,” he said. “They don’t know our kids; they don’t know our staff. If I get a parent who calls and they have a concern, we find out what’s going on and we try to address all of the concerns.”
Armas said the most disheartening thing about incorrect information regarding the school is when it reflects on the students negatively, and pointed out many positive things that the students do.
“We have great kids on campus, and we have a great student body,” he said. “They continue to represent us well.”
Councilman David Swift asked whether the incident had improved security measures in any way, and Armas said no faults in security had been revealed.
“We don’t have people inside bathrooms during class change,” he said. “We follow up and look at what we’re doing. There was no error in the supervision. People were on duty right outside where they’re supposed to be.”
Mayor Fred Pinto said it appeared that the media had played up the incident.
“You are doing an excellent job at that school,” Pinto said.
District 6 School Board Member Marcia Andrews said that the district works to maintain a good relationship with communities.
“We know that isolated incidents can happen,” Andrews said. “As you saw, our security protocols as presented tonight by our principal, we’re on it. I’m in the loop at all times with the principal at Royal Palm Beach High School, as well as our superintendent.”