Failure to Notify Parents of School’s Link to Iraq Disk Creates Criticism, Alarm

Jones County, Ga. schools Superintendent William Mathews on Friday stood by his decision not to mention an Iraq link in his letter last week alerting parents of heightened campus security.

"Some people wanted it to be more factual, but the facts were uncertain and under inquiry," Mathews said. "I still don't think that in our initial correspondence to parents that was something we needed to divulge, because it was preliminary."

Several parents after hearing media reports Friday criticized school officials for not including more information in the two-paragraph memo.

Kresha Tisdale, whose child attends Gray Elementary School, said parents should have been told of the Iraq link.

"A meeting should have been called to make parents aware of what's going on," Tisdale said. "I'm very alarmed at the way this is being handled."

"We should be aware of what's going on so that we can make decisions for our children," she said. "To hear this driving to work this morning, after I've dropped her off at school. ... I'm pretty upset."

Parent Frank Robinson, whose child is in pre-kindergarten, said he felt he had a right to know more. "If we're going to leave our children with them, we need to know all the circumstances in which we're leaving them."

School officials confirmed late Thursday they increased security at Jones schools after receiving word in September that a disk found in Iraq contained information, such as floor layouts and class times, for schools in at least six states.

Mathews alerted parents and staff in the 5,200-student system of increased security in a Sept. 30 memo.

"We didn't want to alarm people unnecessarily but also, it was in the process of ongoing inquiry," Mathews said. "We didn't know how much we should divulge."

Mathews said the system continued to post additional additional sheriff's and police officers at schools, though he was uncertain how many. He estimated that more students were absent Friday, though he did not have attendance numbers.

Some parents said Friday they originally paid the memo little attention.

"I just thought 9/11, election year - they're just going to put some more cops out there," said Amanda Bradford, whose child attends Gray Elementary.

Jones County schools has submitted an emergency plan to Georgia Emergency Management Agency, but it has not yet been approved, said Pete Golden, a GEMA area school safety coordinator who oversees 22 counties in mid- to west Georgia.

The General Assembly in 1999 began requiring school systems to develop GEMA-approved plans, though schools are not required to specify how they notify parents in case of emergencies, Golden said.