By Jordan Richart and Jordan Morey
Nine Jennings County High School students were detained and later released Tuesday for leaving school grounds after staging a demonstration about recent threats by other students.
Police believe students left the school around 11:30 a.m. after forming a small demonstration inside to protest three school-related threats over the past week, Sgt. Andrew Richmond with the North Vernon Police Department said.
“That is kind of the impression we have,” he said, adding students were not making any specific demands during the protest.
Richmond said six of the nine were found on Norris Avenue, while the other three were found along Walnut Street.
The students were taken to the police department by officers and later released to their parents and guardians. State law allows officers to take students into custody during school hours if they are found in a public place.
“They’re violating the compulsory attendance statute for Indiana, which equates into truancy,” Richmond said.
He wanted to be clear that students were not detained for protesting but because they left school grounds.
The incidents students are believed to have protested include two reported Sept. 10.
The first involved a sixth grader who made a vague threat to the school system on social media, while the second involved a freshman who made a specific threat against two other students in a classroom.
A third incident involved a high school junior who was overheard making a vague threat Monday.
All three face preliminary Level 5 intimidation charges.
All those incidents were reported to School Resource Officer Matt Staples.
No evidence suggests that any of the incidents were coordinated, and there is no evidence that any of these events involved prior planning or any preparation, Richmond said.
All of the cases involving the threats have been forwarded to the juvenile court for prosecution, Richmond said.
During Tuesday’s demonstration, the group protesting moved to the sidewalk outside the building.
Police were called to intervene when students started to leave the school property without permission from school staff to leave, Richmond said.
The school’s policy also requires students be signed out by a parent or guardian.
In a statement released to the media, Superintendent Teresa Brown said there is nothing the corporation takes more seriously than the safety of its students.
“We value and respect student expression and will make every effort to continue to provide our students with a forum for conversations while maintaining an orderly school environment,” she said. “We ask our parents to remind their children all threats to student safety are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”
Brown promised in the release that the students who left will be given due process.
North Vernon police officers also are aware of certain allegations without evidence that “hit lists” and videos depicting animal cruelty were discovered related to one of the school threats, Richmond said.