A so-called panic button, which is designed to alert a school's main office to a classroom emergency, reportedly didn't work after a Key Largo School teacher pushed his repeatedly while a third-grader threatened to shoot and stab his classmates last week.
The threat was apparently just that, and the boy did not have a weapon. But the school's reaction to the situation sparked outrage among concerned parents who say they were never informed about the incident until after a child told his parents and that couple posted it on Facebook several days later.
"No parent should have to hear of a threat of this magnitude at the dinner table from a child that has heard it first," parent Rob Bulkiewicz told School Board members at a meeting in Marathon Tuesday night.
Parents are also upset that the boy's punishment was a two-day suspension.
Key Largo School principal Julia Hoar referred all questions to district Superintendent Mark Porter. Porter said in an interview that he did not know for sure what happened with the panic button, but he defended Hoar and her staff, while not getting into specifics.
"Key Largo School leadership and staff are very concerned about student safety," Porter said.
The boy who made the threat is back in class this week, prompting several of his classmates' parents to keep their children out of school.
At Tuesday's board meeting, School Board attorney Dirk Smits warned board members and Porter not to publicly comment on the situation because of potential legal issues over the boy's medical privacy.
But board members did tell Pat LaFere, executive director of operations and planning, to go into all the district schools and verify that safety systems were in good working order.
About 12 parents came to the meeting to demand something be done about last week's incident, which they said is not uncharacteristic behavior for the boy who made the threats. They also said there are other students at the school with a history of violent and bizarre behavior that appears to go unchecked, including a fourth-grade girl who made a "kill list" on her notebook of students she wanted dead.
"Something needs to be done quickly for the safety of the kids who are there for the correct reasons," said parent Jackie Bello. "Something needs to be done now. Not in a month. Now."
Brook Klopp's child was in class that day. She volunteers at the school and has done one-on-one work with the boy, who is not being identified because of his age. Often, the projects he chooses to work on center around guns, violence and video games.
According to Klopp and other parents, the boy that day yelled out that he was going to shoot all his classmates in the face and chop them up with a chainsaw. A Monroe County Sheriff's Office incident report states that the boy also picked up a pencil and simulated stabbing a classmate and his teacher.
That said, most of the parents who spoke Tuesday and who spoke with this newspaper said they believe the boy is not inherently bad, but his parents do nothing to help him deal with his severe emotional problems.
School Board member John Dick said a problem the district faces with these types of children is that there is no alternative school in the Keys for troubled students that young. And Florida school officials' hands are often tied because they can't expel a student if there is no other school is available to take the youth. The most schools can do is suspend a student for 10 days. After that, he or she can come back to school.
"The state says we have to provide an education," Dick said Monday.
But parent Leonardo Bello worries this incident and other threats and actions made by the boy in the past are harbingers of future violence if the district doesn't act now.
"If there is bloodshed, it's going to be on your hands," Bello told board members.
Sean Kinney of KeysInfoNet contributed to this report.