After two death threat incidents targeting minorities, local Black families and activists are calling for the resignation of Marysville School District leadership because of their handling of those incidents.
The first incident, in December 2020, saw Marysville students in an online leadership class discuss killing Black people during a time when they were not supervised by a teacher.
The students began listing specific Black students and discussing whether they should be killed and also referred to those students with racial slurs.
The second incident, in January 2021, occurred when a 20-year-old posted a picture on a student’s social media account that displayed a picture of a gun with the caption "Killing minorities soon."
JJ Frank, a local Black father of two Marysville-Pilchuck High School students who were mentioned in the first death threat, said he has worked with district leadership over the last four months and they have failed to respond adequately.
“We came to the table to try to keep our children safe and to keep the learning environment protected,” he said during an April 3 press conference.
Patrice Frank, wife of JJ Frank, said they have had to do a lot of work to get the district to move on the issue.
“This has been a traumatic and exhausting experience. And it’s just sad that we, as the families that have been victimized, have to take all of the effort in order for the district to take baby steps to move toward what is right, what is fair and what is transparent for the safety of our children,” she said.
“My family has been victimized but I have to have to press conference just to get them to hear us,” said JJ Frank.
Acting MSD Superintendent Lori Knudson wrote that the district takes student safety seriously in a statement to local parents.
“The safety of each student is a top priority. This includes physical, social, and emotional safety. We will strive to do everything in our power to make certain that each student we serve feels safe physically, socially, emotionally, and free from racial or any other forms of discrimination,” she wrote.
She wrote the incidents confirm that racism is still a presence in the school district.
“The death threats have further required us to recognize and take responsibility for our own learning related to racism and hate, and commit to strengthening our practices, communication and training,” said Knudson.
Students involved with the December incident were not criminally charged but instead entered into a diversion program.
“We've got to hold a standard that all death threats are wrong and, at minimum, they need a mental evaluation to see if they are safe to themselves and to the family and children in the school district,” said JJ Frank.
Local Black families were also concerned about the transparency of the district’s actions, although the district is prevented in some regards from sharing personal information about students.
“When incidents occur, the law prevents us from sharing specific details involving the discipline of students,” wrote Knudson.
Knudson did write that the two students from the December incident are currently in “a program outside of school which includes no contact with other students virtually or in person during instructional time.”
Initially, those students were given a suspension and moved to another school.
JJ Frank and others were also disappointed that the threats were being brushed off as jokes by some in the community.
“When a student threatens another student’s life and says they want to kill them, that is not a joke,” he said.
Heritage High School coach, Tulalip Tribal member and local Hawaiian man Martin Napeahi was also disappointed the incident was not being taken seriously.
“A lot of people think ‘oh, just get over it, it was just a joke,’” he said. “I was at a loss for words when I heard that, not from JJ, but from people that we know in the community."
The second death threat incident made by a 20-year-old was investigated by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
The Marysville Police Department initially investigated the incident but handed the case off to the county when they realized the suspect was related to a Marysville police officer.
“I want to update the Marysville community that this investigation is now complete. The Major Crimes Detectives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office have referred this case to the Snohomish County Prosecutor with a recommended charge of hate crime,” said Erik Scairpon, Marysville Police Chief, in a statement released on April 2.
JJ Frank said Scairpon and Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring have worked with him on the issue of racism in the community and had praise for their handling of the recent situations during the April 3 press conference.
“We are committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with members of our BIPOC community to help support and amplify their voices and leadership in matters related to race and equity,” said Scairpon in his statement.
With the school district, JJ Frank has objected to the lack of communication and the response which he said is not centering the victims or addressing their needs.
“Are you talking to teachers about it? Do students know how to speak up about it?” said Patrice Frank. “We had to work really hard to make sure you all as a community knew what was going on."
After an initial meeting with the district, JJ Frank said they hired Continua Consulting to lead local discussions.
“They have a series of forums set without the families that have been victimized,” he said.
Due to the response so far, JJ Frank and others called for the resignation of school district leaders during the press conference.
“If [superintendent] Jason Thompson, Lori Knudson, [director of secondary schools] Rod Merrell and the Continua Consultants do not resign, we are asking Vanessa Edwards, the president of the board of directors, along with the board of directors, to use their authority to terminate their employment immediately,” he said.
Thompson is currently on a leave of absence due to medical reasons.
Knudson wrote the district will continue their work to end racism in the schools.
“With the work and commitment of the district and school leaders and staff, these changes are beginning to occur. Recent events around racial discrimination and hate have raised concern with parents and guardians and the community, we understand the concern regarding the safety of students,” she said. “I recognize that, by themselves, these acknowledgments and actions are small gestures. They become meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and informed actions."
People of color at the April 3 press conference expressed frustration by the lack of progress in removing racism from the community as issues of discrimination continue to persist.
Napeahi said he came to the Marysville/Tulalip community in the ‘80s.
“I want to say a lot has changed, but not much has,” he said. “Racism is deeply rooted in this community and you’re a fool if you don’t think so."