Superintendent says TUHS "has taken appropriate steps for the protection and safety of students and staff"

The Taft Union High School District made its first public statements about the Jan. 10 shooting that left one student critically injured and another facing criminal charges as an adult.

Interim Superintendent William McDermott released the statement Thursday, a week after the event.

He said TUHS has hired a school safety expert and is working with metal health professionals to provide counseling for students traumatized by the event.

"I can also assure you that the District has taken appropriate steps for the protection and safety of students and staff," McDermott wrote.

There were 28 other students in classroom when the shooting occurred and more than 900 on campus, which was locked down for hours. Many students huddled in darkened classroom for several before law enforcement officers escorted them in groups to the school auditorium.

The district has scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the IRC on the TUHS campus to answer questions from concerned parents.

Here is the complete text of McDermott's statement:

We are fortunate and thankful that the courageous actions of students, staff and law enforcement prevented last week's event from being a greater tragedy. Still, everyone in the District community is committed to taking steps to prevent such an event from happening again. So we are reviewing this incident to see what lessons can be learned to further improve our practices and procedures going forward. In this effort, we will work closely with law enforcement, other local officials, mental health professionals, parents and others committed to providing a safe learning and working environment for our students and staff. We have also brought in Dr. Erik Hickey, a national-recognized school safety expert, to assist us.

I can also assure you that the District has taken appropriate steps for the protection and safety of students and staff, and will continue to do so.

In addition, we are focused on providing support for students and staff with the resumption of classes. Counseling services are still being made available to students and staff. We are deeply appreciative to our counselors and the following agencies who have provided specially trained counselors and services this last week: Taft College, Taft City School District, Kern High School District, College Community Services, New Vision Recovery, Optimal Hospice, Hoffman Hospice, Therapy Dogs International and the Linus Project. We would also like to thank Dr. H. Norman Wright, a nationally-recognized trauma specialist and grief counselor, who has been working with staff and students to deal with the tragic events. He has assisted schools throughout the country in providing grief and trauma counseling and will be continuing to assist us for the foreseeable future.

Missed athletic contests are being rescheduled and we desire to meet the full schedule of events and activities to further help students re-engage in learning. Additionally, in the very near future, the District will hold community forums on this event and the many issues and concerns resulting from it. Information about the forums will be posted on the District's website and at the school.

The District is aware of stories and rumors about past events involving the suspect. We also understand the community's desire for information. We are fully cooperating with law enforcement, including providing them with information relevant to last week's event. However, student information maintained by the District is highly confidential and protected from public disclosure under both state and federal law. As a result, we are obligated to protect the confidentiality of student information, even under the present circumstances. Please know that the District is working closely with law enforcement to timely provide appropriate information to our community as permitted by law and in consideration of the ongoing criminal investigation and process.

We are grateful that our students have returned to their classrooms with the support of their parents, teachers, staff and countless others. The Taft Union High School District again extends our deepest gratitude to everyone who has given support and expressed concern at this critical time. It is nothing short of amazing to see how closely our community has come together along with those from outside the area to offer their care and assistance. Certainly, our work is not done and there may still be challenges ahead. We are, however, working to meet them and will continue to do so.

Thank you

William McDermott, Ph.D. Interim Superintendent