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More questions raised about pledge that Northampton High School students took after threat last month

— School officials and police continue to withhold the contents of a pledge Northampton High School students were asked to sign last month, despite concerns raised by parents and civil liberties advocates.

After an unsigned threat to the school was discovered in an NHS bathroom Dec. 19, teachers asked students to sign the pledge Dec. 21. Police have confirmed the pledge was used to collect handwriting samples as part of their investigation into the threat.

NHS parent Gina Nortonsmith raised concerns about the tactic at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. “I am dismayed my child was required to give evidence” by writing the pledge and “dismayed that police now have a sample of my child’s handwriting and concerned it will become part of a police file,” she said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

NHS students interviewed by the Gazette have said the pledge was dictated to them in their first period classes and they were asked to copy and sign it. In it, they said, they promised they would protect the school and cooperate with efforts to prevent threats.

Nortonsmith criticized a decision by school officials, police and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office not to notify parents about the pledge.

“I’m concerned that I don’t know what this pledge says,” she said. “I get calls from the school about fundraising events but not about this.”

Contrary to statements by school administrators that the pledge was voluntary, Nortonsmith said her son did not feel he had a choice about whether to write it. “I’m concerned, not just for my son but also for the other 800 students at the high school,” she said.

Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz Friday defended the strategy and said it was taken in consultation with the DA’s office and high school administrators.

He said the handwriting samples will not be shared with any state or federal agencies. Those samples will remain in city police custody “until we decide whether we need to keep them or not keep them,” based on the investigation, Sienkiewicz said.

He also said he has told high school administrators they should release the the pledge to anyone who asks.

“It’s in the custody of the high school,” Sienkiewicz said. “We’ve said there should be no reluctance to release it. There’s nothing that will hurt our investigation by its release.”

High school administrators did not return phone calls and emails from the Gazette Friday. School Superintendent Brian Salzer was out of the country on vacation this week.

Alex Rifken, a student representative on the school board, said at the meeting that the police presence Dec. 19 and taking the pledge “made me feel safe.”

“Students are not worried about what happened,” Rifken said. “We’re going on with our schoolwork and with being a community.”

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