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Canfield Schools board faces ire over mishandling of gun threat

“In my experience with Canfield, this is indicative of a trend to pretend that we are a perfect community — which we are not," said Canfield graduate Samantha Fritz, now a Youngstown State student.

CANFIELD — Despite impassioned pleas from Canfield Schools parents for accountability in the district’s reported mishandling of a potential gun threat Sept. 12, board members on Wednesday have yet to bring any further discipline against district Superintendent Alex Geordan or middle school assistant Principal Mike Flood.

Both were accused by city and county investigators of having under-reported or “intentionally downplayed” the threat.

“The fact that any of you on the board would condone asking [Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci] to lie to the community to cover up the superintendent’s lies upon lies is appalling,” said Joe Boris, the father of the sixth-grade student who was threatened to be shot several times by a classmate. “All of you should be ashamed to even show your faces tonight. … The egos in this room know no bounds.

“If you all think manipulating information regarding school security and safety is better than telling the truth about the incidents that are happening within the school district, then you are the problem,” he continued. “Your press conference last night completely missed the point. It’s about accountability.”

According to the 30-page report released Tuesday by city and county investigators, Geordan sent a text message to board members admitting that the leadership “intentionally downplayed” the threat in an automated notification to district parents because “it deals with a student making [a poor] choice, which adolescents do.”

Though that sixth-grader initially threatened to retrieve his mother’s gun and use it on his classmate, he told police he wasn’t serious and his mother claimed he doesn’t have access to the gun.

Canfield graduate Samantha Fritz, now a Youngstown State student, said she was on-campus the day it was locked down due to a perceived shooter threat last December.

“I don’t want any student to feel as scared as I currently feel to sit in class,” she said. “In my experience with Canfield, this is indicative of a trend to pretend that we are a perfect community — which we are not.

“In a world where school shootings are the norm, taking any child’s safety for granted is not acceptable. … I hope that you guys have learned from the situation. And to quote the police report, this is a major ‘F’ up.”

Several district employees spoke about safety initiatives at their schools or backed administrators, including district spokeswoman and educator Renee English, mother of a Canfield ninth-grader and sixth-grader. English said the list of improvements Geordan has made to the district during his tenure has grown to five pages long.

“Mr. Geordan has demonstrated sound leadership qualities, a strong work ethic [and] a solid commitment to students, teachers and parents,” she said, as Boris quietly heckled board members.

Boris was then removed from the board meeting room and escorted away by police.

Others called for Geordan and Flood to face consequences. Though Flood was suspended briefly following the incident, the board has yet to comment to Mahoning Matters about potential punishment for Geordan.

“Mr Flood, while he’s a very nice man and while liked by many students and parents in this district, his actions — or lack thereof — is actually what brought most of the people here tonight,” said Christy Durham. “His lack of judgment [is] what made an already horrible incident what it is today.

“I do not agree with all the decisions Mr. Geordan, school board members or other administration staff make, however, I emphatically trust they do what they feel is best for students in this district,” she continued. “Unfortunately, on this day, the assistant principal did not.”

Jen Gershkowitz, after reading the full investigation, said Geordan’s behavior was self-serving.

“Mr. Geordan is so concerned about how he looks to others he doesn’t realize that everyone views our school district right now as unwilling and unable to protect their students,” she said. “I urge the board to do the right thing and take action with Mr. Geordan.”

Outgoing board member Philip Bova, one of only two board members to directly address the attendees, later rebutted.

“I am appalled at what has gone on in this board room. The last meeting almost ended in a riot and you tell me the chief [Colucci] is a good guy? … I feared for my life sitting here. I thought it was appalling,” he said, causing another public attendee to walk out in apparent disgust.

Bova said he feels Geordan has taken “undue shots” from the public and reiterated the improvements he’s made to the district.

“The relationship we have between the police and the school system is terrible,” he said. “As [a former] assistant principal, the last thing I ever wanted to do was bring the police in because I knew it escalated the situation. Even though someone had caused the problem, I didn’t want to bury that person.

“We have the best school district in three counties. We are in the top-ten academically. And [we’re] getting dragged through the mud. It’s ridiculous.”

Colucci declined to comment following Wednesday’s meeting, instead saying the report “speaks for itself.”

Though Geordan said he hadn’t planned on making a public statement, he also spoke up.

“I completely understand parents wanting what’s best for their youngsters,” he said, gesturing to district principals behind his shoulder. “But you have to understand deep down in our souls, each one of these gentlemen, everyone working with their kids … there’s not one time that we ever want anything to happen to anyone — ever,” he said. “We think of our youngsters here like they are our own and truly believe that.

“You might not. Then you might not know me, and I’d love to get to know you more over a cup of coffee. You’re always welcome in my office. Please come.”

Joe Boris’ wife, Billie Jo Boris, remained and listened. She told board members none of them can sympathize with her, as it wasn’t their children who were threatened to be shot while in class.

“It breaks my heart to think we live in [a] world today … that we have to worry about sending our kids to school. Period,” she said. “We should not have to be involving police departments and news media to talk about school. Period.

“We all have to do better in this world.”

Board member Traci DeCapua told Boris the district does “everything we possibly can” for the district’s more than 2,000 students.

“Mistakes are made. Nobody’s perfect. We can do everything in the world to keep these kids safe,” she said. “We are in a position to try and move on and do what’s best for the district.

“Please don’t think that we’ve ever stopped trying. There’s just things that take time. Nothing is done overnight.”

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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