School superintendents from Williamsburg-James City County and York County schools said safety is at the forefront of their thoughts in light of the recent mass shooting in Florida.
Seventeen students and teachers died as the result of an attack last Wednesday at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“I’m deeply disturbed by the shooting,” said Olwen Herron, W-JCC superintendent. “My heart and the hearts of everyone here go out to the parents of those students who have fallen, and the school staff who had to endure this terrible tragedy as well.”
Herron said the division’s first concern is to keep students safe. She said they have talked about the Florida shooting with school staff.
“Our staff are very vigilant and know their students well, which I think is one of the key ways to prevent such a tragedy, which is to know our students very, very well,” Herron said.
Victor Shandor, York County Public Schools superintendent, posted his thoughts on the issue on district’s Facebook page.
“I want to assure you that the safety of our students is our top priority. Our school division has a comprehensive crisis plan in place to prepare for all types of emergencies,” Shandor wrote. “The plan is reviewed and updated annually with support from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and is used daily to guide the safe operations of our schools. The ongoing revisions of our procedures will be informed by the most recent events.”
Katherine Goff, a York County schools spokeswoman, said the district would hold additional emergency drills this year as a part of the schools’ safety plans and not a result of the Florida shooting.
Dates of emergency drills are not released ahead of time. The Virginia Department of Education requires every public school to conduct two lockdown drills during the first 20 days of school, one of which must be in September. During the rest of the year, the schools must conduct two more drills, with one being in January.
Betsy Overkamp-Smith, W-JCC spokeswoman, said schools hold safety drills throughout the year in partnership with local police and fire departments. She said the district tries to learn the most they can from each drill.
“We are doing everything I think we can to keep our students safe, and that is a huge priority for us,” Herron said. “Every time an event like this happens it forces us to re-evaluate and make sure we are doing everything we can to keep our students safe.”
On Feb. 21, Hampton Roads area school districts published a letter to members of the community. In the letter, school administrators listed what parents could do to prevent an attack, including monitoring their child’s social media and reporting them to authorities if they believe their child is capable of making a threat and following through.
“As superintendents, we have no greater responsibility than to educate our children in a safe environment where they can learn and grow, without carrying the weight of fear and anxiety on their shoulders,” the letter said.
On his Facebook post, Shandor wrote school counselors were available to speak with students and staff about their feelings concerning the Florida shooting. He also provided a link to the National Association of School Psychologist’s letter, telling parents and teachers how to talk about the subject with children.
“If a student cannot feel safe in a school environment it is very difficult to learn, and obviously an event like this impacts how a student feels about coming to school,” Herron said. “(Student’s) emotional well being is of extreme importance to us.”
Want to learn more?
To read W-JCC’s emergency and crisis planning, visit wjccschools.org.
York County’s emergency and crisis planning is available at yorkcountyschools.org.
Visit bit.ly/2C0lGrr to read the National Association of School Psychologists letter.
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.