In a recent op-ed, former Washoe County School District (WCSD) Trustee Kurt Thigpen laid bare his reasons for resigning—including fear for his own safety and that of his fellow board members as their meetings have become increasingly caustic.
Thigpen wrote that his resignation after only a few months in the position came in the face of “endless emails, text, phone calls, and social media messages with all sorts of hateful things” and increasingly tense and hostile interactions with the public during board meetings. It also came after the realization that he and other trustees had been doxed—meaning their personal information, like addresses and phone numbers, was shared publicly.
“In all honesty, I walked into every board meeting since Jan. 4 fearing for our safety, and not knowing what might happen next. I’m grateful for the school police who continue to work to protect the Board and staff during those meetings,” Thigpen wrote.
This Is Reno asked WSCD Police Chief Jason Trevino what has and is being done to ensure the security of trustees and schools ahead of a new school year that is bound to be accompanied by continuing tensions with controversial mask mandates remaining in place and the next board meeting set for Tuesday.
“I mean, obviously, I can’t really give you any details as far as what security measures are in place or what we’re doing specifically,” Trevino said. “I can say that, yeah, we have had an increase in tensions, whether they’re at the meetings or whether that’s perceived by some folks. Everybody has a different level of comfortability with conflict. I guess that’s where I would start. And what some people are comfortable with, other people are highly uncomfortable with.”
Trevino was quick to say that he and his officers want everyone who shows up to give public comment, regardless of what side of an issue they’re on. He also said it’s a “balancing act” to beef up security enough for people to feel safe without doing it to such a degree that it has the opposite effect.
“We have increased security measures over the last several months as we’ve seen an increase in the size of attendance at the meetings as well as people that appear to be angrier,” he said. “The fact that people are vocal is totally fine. That’s what public comment is for, and the board has said that many times. We welcome public comment, but there’s also a difference between public comment and being passionate about something and public comment and aggressive actions in the audience.”
Trevino confirmed that the school police have received complaints from people who’ve claimed they were threatened by others in the audience at board meetings or outside on the lawn in front of the district’s headquarters. That’s where sometimes dozens of people gather to protest board decisions, masks, curriculum and other issues. He said officers have worked to address those concerns.
Sometimes people in the audience direct their ire at the board of trustees. Board President Angie Taylor frequently reminds people to stay on topic with their comments, to keep their masks over their noses and mouths and to avoid outbursts—of which there have been a few.
“Believe it or not, some people think, ‘Oh, I’m not a kid. You can’t arrest me.’ That’s not how it works.”
Trevino said most people abide.
“From my experience, most of the time, if the board president has to remind them to stay on topic or to not use inappropriate language or something like that, the people have been very respectful of that—and they’ve all abided by that,” he said. “It’s very rare that we’ve had to escort people out of the building. It has happened, but it’s very rare.”
As to the safety and security of board members, Trevino confirmed measures have been put in place, though the details were not revealed.
“Really, what it comes down to is we were able to help provide them with situational awareness safety measures that they can utilize whether they’re here on our properties at the district or at home or their place of business or anything like that,” he said. “And then as far as very specific safety measures that we work with some of them with, obviously, we can’t divulge those types of things. We also work with our local law enforcement agency partners as well if a threat or potential for a threat or problem is existing outside of our jurisdiction.”
When school board members have been threatened and doxed during the pandemic, Trevino said, the school police have worked with other local law enforcement agencies to keep them abreast of the situation and allow them to provide their own measures to protect trustees.
The WCSD Police Department has 38 sworn officers. They’ll be busy when school starts back up on Monday, but Trevino said there aren’t any major changes to their policing plan compared to years prior.
“The beginning of a school year is always very busy,” he said. “Well, in a normal school year it’s very busy, and we do anticipate this year to be quite a busy start just due to the fact our middle and high schools haven’t had full capacity for quite some time.
“In some respects, you’ve got to look at it like you’re going to have two freshmen classes because the sophomore class didn’t really have a traditional freshman year either. So, this will be their first go around with having full hallways and stuff like that as well,” he added.
Trevino explained that every traditional high school in the district has an assigned officer who’s there every day. The school police also have patrol officers who respond to calls at elementary, middle and high schools within each neighborhood in the district.
“And then on top of that we have detectives. We have a motor unit. We also have two officers assigned to the regional gang unit,” he said.
WCSD police also run programs like “Safe Routes to Schools,” to educate parents and students on ways to remain safe when walking or biking to school.
If there’s something Trevino wants the public to understand about the school police department, it’s that its officers are real officers.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what we do or why we do it,” he explained. “But one of the things I always try to put out there is, you know, the school police department—we are Category 1, certified, State of Nevada police officers. We have all the legal authority to enforce laws on any of our district properties, and that’s with juveniles or adults. Believe it or not, some people think, ‘Oh, I’m not a kid. You can’t arrest me.’ That’s not how it works.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.