After alleged knife incident, claims surface that school, principal mishandled situation

The parents of a Dickinson sixth grader who allegedly had a knife pulled on him last month say they believe the school has not dealt with the incident properly.

Press file photo

The parents of a Dickinson sixth grader who allegedly had a knife pulled on him last month say they believe the school has not dealt with the incident properly.

Ashley Holder said her 11-year-old son was threatened with a knife that was held a few inches away from his face on March 20 at Berg Elementary. The student in question was suspended for one day and had one day of in-school suspension.

The child's parents said they would have liked more communication about the incident from the school. When the child's father went in to talk to the Berg Elementary Principal Shawn Leiss he received a bizarre explanation about how the situation was handled which included a racially charged analogy about discretionary discipline.

The child's father, Dustin Lasyone, the child and Leiss had a meeting about the incident a few days after. Lasyone recorded the interview, which was uploaded online for people to listen to.

Leiss told The Press he was aware the recording was made public, but he was not aware the meeting with the parent and child was being recorded at the time. He also verified he was one of the participants in the conversation.


The parents said they would have liked to have more communication with the school from the beginning.

"I expected a phone call at least, at the minimum," Holder said. "Above and beyond how they handled the circumstance afterwards, where was my phone call? My child had a knife next to his throat, where's my call?"

During the recorded meeting, Leiss said he does his best to consider each student and "use a common sense approach" when handling any situation.

"One things I try not to do is I try to remember that, like, sixth graders are kids," Leiss said in the recording. "I don't want to overreact."

However, Lasyone and Holder do not believe that administration did enough in the situation and because of that they are now homeschooling their sixth grader and have considered moving out of the area.

"If you have a weapon brandished in a threatening manner, the police need to be called and that child needs to be removed from the school campus. Bottom line," Holder said.

In the meeting, Leiss used several examples of having to use discretion and context to determine what constitutes appropriate behavior. He also used a racial slur in attempting to describe the way society has changed over the years.

"That's just it, how do you play the middle ground? And that's what I try to do," Leiss told Lasyone. "It's kind of like that it's OK for some black guys call each other 'Hey n-----.' You know, I mean like somehow that's OK, but if somebody else does it, it's not OK. It's just really hard to navigate and kind of find that middle ground."


When he was asked about why he used that example, rather than something else, Leiss said, "the world that we live in today is complex; that has been debated on the nightly news."

"It was just a reference to how complicated things are," Leiss said. "In the current case, my job is to consider every student, and I was trying to be fair to everybody involved."

Doug Sullivan, superintendent of Dickinson Public Schools, asked people to listen to the entire audio recording before making judgements.

"I think that people, if they're curious about this, need to listen to the audio, so that they get the proper context for the comment," he said.

The parents said beyond the language used, the entire audio was upsetting for them.

"I felt like he basically put such minimal concern into it that once he realized the gravity of the situation it was easier to minimize it than admit he had made a terrible mistake," Holder said.

During the audio, Leiss does apologize to the child for not talking to him in the first place.

Leiss said while he cannot comment on the specifics of the case, they do their best to provide a safe environment at Berg.


"The staff at Berg Elementary works very hard to create and maintain a safe and positive learning environment," Leiss said. "We are successful, we continue to be successful. ... Berg continues to be a safe place, and I'm proud of my entire staff and the work they do to create that safe learning environment."

Ultimately, Lasyone and Holder want to see change, not just in Dickinson Public Schools, but across the state when it comes to incidents involving weapons at schools.

"They need to have proper policies and procedures implemented," Lasyone said.

"(Ones) that don't have vague wording that allow for discretion, that there's black and white, this is what you do," Holder added.

The incident is currently under investigation by the school resource officer.

Click here to listen to the audio. The article attached to the recording is not affiliated with The Press.

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