Hampton Roads superintendents join forces to address school threats

UPDATE: (2/22/18) — Isle of Wight County Schools and Southampton County Public Schools have signed on to the superintendents’ letter on school safety.

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Ten superintendents from school divisions across Hampton Roads are teaming up and speaking out about recent school threats following last week’s school shooting in Florida.

Since the Florida shooting, more than a dozen middle and high schools around the area have dealt with confirmed social media threats and rumors. Five of those who’ve been arrested are middle schoolers — three have been charged with felonies.

To reassure their school communities and reinforce the consequences of sending or sharing threats, the superintendents released a joint letter, saying that “schools are a place where children deserve to learn free from fear.”

“Any threat made against any one of our school — even those made “as a joke” — will have serious repercussions, including potential criminal charges and a possible recommendation for expulsion from school,” the letter reads.

They say the school systems are working closely with local law enforcement and “have multiple security measures in place.”

One of the main takeaways the superintendents stressed is that students shouldn’t share rumors circulating on social media. Instead, they should report the threat directly to law enforcement or school officials.

The superintendents also stressed that parental and caregiver involvement is crucial when it comes to stopping any wrongdoing. “Quite simply, if you hear or see something, say something.”

They released these tips to parents and caregivers for monitoring students’ social media:

  • Know what websites and social media sites your child is using. Look at what they are posting and who they are following.
  • Stress that making a threat is not to be taken lightly and that there are severe consequences.
  • Talk with your child about recent local and national incidents. Explain that feelings such as sadness, anger, disappointment, and
    fear can be normal responses to tragedies for children and adults.
  • Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if your child needs assistance dealing with anxiety or feeling safe.
  • Contact your child’s school and law enforcement if you believe your child is capable of making a threat and following through.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your children and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they become
    aware of a threat or rumor of violence.

The superintendents include: James Roberts, Chesapeake Public Schools; Tamara Sterling, Franklin City Public Schools; Jeffery Smith, Hampton City Schools; Brian Nichols, Newport News Public Schools;  Melinda J. Boone, Norfolk Public Schools; Jennifer Parish, Poquoson City Public Schools;  Elie Bracy, III, Portsmouth Public Schools; Deran Whitney, Suffolk Public Schools; Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools; Olwen Herron, Williamsburg-James City County Schools; Dr. Jim Thornton, Isle of Wight County Schools; Dr. Gwendolyn Page Shannon, Southampton County Public Schools.

Read the superintendents’ full letter here

Just this week, Suffolk Public Schools launched a program with the Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation aimed at addressing suicide and depression in schools. Suzanne Rice, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services with Suffolk Schools, told 10 On Your Side she speaks with at least one student a week who’s seriously considering suicide.