Dr. Joyanne D. Miller Elementary School

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – An 11-year-old from the Dr. Joyanne D. Miller School was suspended Thursday, Feb. 9 pending an investigation by administration and the Police Department over a report that he brought a steak knife to school and had a “kill list” of students he intended to harm.

According to Interim Superintendent Fred Nickles, the school, which houses the district’s fourth- and fifth- graders, was notified Thursday by a parent whose child came home from school Wednesday and told them about it. 

“This student had indicated to different students that he had the steak knife. He also had a list of certain individuals that he was going to take some type of action against,” Nickles confirmed in an interview with The Current Tuesday, Feb. 14.

He said he felt the matter, which is still under investigation, was handled appropriately.

“When the school found out about it, the children were interviewed about it. The knife was found in the student’s backpack, and the student was suspended," he said.

"The Egg Harbor Township Police Department was notified immediately and did an incident report. We are currently having the student evaluated by our child study team, and all the parents of the students involved have been notified.”

Nickles said there were no reports of the boy being bullied leading up to the incident, nor did he have a history of behavioral issues.

“Of all of the different children and even the student who was involved, there didn’t seem to be any bullying involved regarding this incident,” he said, adding that the child involved had “no discipline record whatsoever.”

Parents of students at the school took to social media over the weekend to voice their concern over the incident.

Janet Mangano, who told The Current that her child was named on the alleged “kill list,” was notified of the situation via phone call Thursday by the school. She said she was told the child was removed from the classroom and that a police investigation was underway.

She said the way it was handled for those involved was appropriate, but the district fell short in informing the larger school community. Administrators should have put out a statement to inform the parents of all of the school’s students, she said.

“Parents aren’t aware of what’s going on, and it makes you wonder what else is being swept under the rug,” Mangano said. “Parents need to be aware these things are going on so they can ask their kids if similar stuff is happening to them or to check their backpacks. This is our community and we have to look out for one another. We can’t do that unless we know what’s going on.”

She said sharing the information about the incident could help start important conversations at home between parents and kids about possible bullying, whether the child is a target or doing the bullying.

“They say there is a zero tolerance policy, but this stuff does go on, and I feel like it gets swept under the rug,” she said.

Nickles said he does not believe the district should have put out a message to all parents regarding the incident.

“I don’t think that it is our responsibility to inform the entire population of that school on what occurred. All of the parents of the students involved were notified, and I have not received any complaints regarding any notification of noninvolved parents,” he said. “I don’t know if that is a legitimate criticism. We have confidentialities that we have an obligation to maintain.”

Interim Assistant Superintendent Donna Haye, who met with Nickles and school administrators again Tuesday morning to assess how the matter was handled, said safety and security of the children is paramount at all times. She said that nothing is being hidden, as each and every incident of violence is required to be reported to the county superintendent's office, the school board and the Police Department.

“We take every potential threat and allegation seriously and follow through on every investigation,” Haye said.

She said she said she encouraged the principals to meet with the entire school body to reiterate the message of reporting dangerous situations or bullying incidents.

“Just like on a train and at the mall, if you see something, say something,” Haye said.

She said the principals talked to students about bullying and reporting, and told students that if they feel uncomfortable about anything they can talk about it with their school nurse, counselor, principal, vice principals, or their mom or dad. 

"And that’s what one child did here,” she said.

Nickles said the district has to keep a balance.

“We want to react; we don’t want to overreact,” he said in defense of the district’s response. “I told the principal and the assistant principal this morning that they handled it well. They followed board policy, and the police were notified immediately, and the matter is still under investigation.”

Staff writer Laura Stetser covers Egg Harbor Township and writes the weekly column The Mom's Beat. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @EHTCurrent, @LauraStetser and @TheMomsBeat.