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Threat at Billings West High School prompts parents to keep children home from school

Increased police presence at Billings West High School on Tuesday.
Posted at 6:50 PM, Dec 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-07 10:17:51-05

BILLINGS — Multiple threats written inside bathroom stalls at Billings West High School have prompted parents to keep their children home from school on Wednesday.

The first threat was discovered on Nov. 30, and the second threat was discovered on Tuesday.

Concerned parents took to social media on Monday to voice their concerns.

“We are going to be keeping him home tomorrow because I am not completely satisfied with the response from the school district. All they’ve said is that they haven’t substantiated the threat, however, there will be extra police presence, and that’s all we’ve heard,” said Shelley Solomon, a mother of a 15-year-old West student, on Tuesday. “It bothers me as a parent, it bothers my child, and I kind of just want answers.”

Solomon explains that after a threat in early November toward West, she reached out to the school for more information, but did not get a response. But her question list is growing.

“I’ve heard that Superintendent (Greg) Upham was offered metal detectors, free of charge, and that was declined, and I would kind of like to know why,” Solomon questions.

She would like to see more transparency from the school district.

“I would like to see more transparency. More updates. I realize there’s that saying no news is good news, but when it’s something like this where there’s a swastika and a threat, it’s concerning to me, and the lack of transparency is really concerning,” Solomon explains. "I know resources are low everywhere, but maybe have more school resource officers."

The first threat included a swastika above its menacing message.

But even if these threats were just a hoax, Cherilyn DeVries from the Montana Human Rights Network explained Tuesday how harmful these messages can be.

“This causes real fear in communities that face discrimination and marginalization and oppression on a regular basis,” DeVries explained. “It’s really important for schools to make sure that this kind of stuff isn’t just normalized, or put into a ‘kids will be kids’ type situation."

DeVries also explained that violent messages are on the rise across the country, not just in Montana.

“Over the past five or six years, extremist rhetoric, antisemitism, racism, and so on has become really normalized, not just in Montana but across the whole country,” DeVries said. “We’re seeing more of this in younger groups because we know that extremist groups are specifically trying to radicalize and recruit teens and people in their 20s and 30s ongoing. It’s really important that students know that this is not acceptable because it makes people unsafe."

Other parents have indicated on social media they plan to keep their kids home Wednesday, but the total number of absences will be determined on Wednesday.

MTN reached out to West High Principal Kelly Hornby by email and Upham by email and phone on Tuesday for comments but has not heard back.

"Just the lack of response from the last threat, and now this, we’ve just decided that we’re going to keep him home tomorrow,” Solomon explains. "I don’t know what the answer is as a parent, but I think the biggest thing would be the communication part."