School officials respond to threats

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Schools to hire more security, speed security system installation

Suffolk Public Schools will hire additional safety personnel and accelerate the installation of security systems following a school shooting in Florida and a rash of threats against local schools, according to a letter from Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney sent on Tuesday.

Hampton Roads schools have been plagued this week by a series of threats posted on social media. Some threats named the individual school, and many of them were very similar except for changing the name of the school.

Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools were no exception, having been the subject of some of the threats. The series of threats followed last Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A former student reportedly entered the building and opened fire during the school day, killing 17 students and teachers.

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Also Tuesday, another social media post was uncovered “that could have been perceived as a potential threat” at Lakeland High School, Principal Douglas Wagoner wrote in a letter to Lakeland families. The source of the post was identified as a Lakeland student, he added.

“The student is being handled in accordance with (Suffolk Public Schools) and (Suffolk Police Department) policies,” Wagoner wrote.

Nansemond River High School Principal Daniel O’Leary Jr. wrote in a letter to families Tuesday that the school day proceeded “as normally as possible” after the school was the subject of one of the threats Monday.

School administrators and staff conducted metal detector checks upon student arrival, and Suffolk Police increased its presence within the building and surrounding property, O’Leary noted. The checks went normally, and students fully cooperated, he wrote.

The letters from both principals urged parents to remind their children not to repost such messages but to report them.

O’Leary wrote the investigation continues into the prior threats against Nansemond River and that information continues to come in.

“I remain hopeful this information and all related investigations will directly lead to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible,” O’Leary wrote.

The superintendent’s letter focused on five key areas: plans and practice, building security, partnership, communication and mental wellness.

Whitney said most Suffolk public schools have locked access control systems at the front doors. The installation schedule for similar systems at four remaining schools has been accelerated.

In addition, additional safety personnel will be hired “to bolster building security and visitor authorization,” he wrote.

School division spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said the division is still assessing how many additional hires will be needed.

“Security monitors walk the building and grounds ensuring everyone is in designated areas, doors are locked and all adults have ID badges or visitor tags,” Bradshaw wrote in an emailed response to questions. “Front-desk monitors will man the kiosk by the front door to ensure visitors are properly monitored. Duties might expand to include managing the locked access control system once other resources are put in place.”

Whitney also reassured parents and the community that every school has a crisis management plan approved by the Virginia Department of Education. All students, staff and administrators regularly participate in safety and lockdown drills, he wrote.

The division also maintains its “strong working relationship” with the Suffolk Police Department, Whitney wrote.

He also encouraged parents to be aware of their children’s social media accounts and what they are posting and reposting.

“We take every piece of information and every cyber threat seriously,” he wrote. “Please also continue to encourage your children to report anything they see, hear or sense that could affect student, staff or school safety.”

Lastly, Whitney reminded parents of the upcoming community presentations related to suicide prevention. The first is at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at King’s Fork High School. Others will follow at 6:30 p.m. March 1 at Nansemond River and at 6:30 p.m. March 14 at Lakeland.