Prince William Receives Uptick in Threats Following Parkland

| March 12, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, School Board Representative Gil Trenum, Chief Barry Barnard, Sheriff Glen Hill, and Risk Management Director Ronald Crowe at the Safe Schools Meeting, March 9, 2018.

Since the Parkland tragedy, there have been between 37 and 40 threats reported to Prince William County Police, according to Police Chief Barry Barnard, who spoke at a school safety town hall meeting.

“That sounds like a lot,” he said, but she it is not unusual after a tragedy. The county experienced an uptick in reported threats after the Columbine shooting in 1999 as well.

Barnard was one of a panel of speakers on school safety at Chris Yung Elementary School in Bristow, Friday night.

The others were Sheriff Glen Hill; Ronald Crowe, Director of Risk Management and Security for Prince William County Schools; Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson; and Brentsville School Board representative Gil Trenum.

Barnard talked about how the community should alert the police of any and all threats.

“We investigate them,” he said, “a threat is a threat until it’s not… Always call and report it; let us decide.” Individuals making threats can be charged with a crime.

Parents wanted to know what safety precautions are in place in PWCS.

Crowe said that Prince William County Schools is way ahead of the curve. The division has been preparing for threats long before the Parkland shooting, said Sheriff Hill.

The division does not feel ‘it cannot happen here.’ “We can have them here. We have had them here,” Hill said.

The sheriff referenced an incident at Bull Run Middle School in 2004, and at Woodbridge’s Northern Virginia Community College campus in 2009.

In 2012, the division had an outside group do a threat assessment review. That group described the schools’ crisis management plan as “the best they’ve ever seen,” Crowe said.

And PWCS schools have been designed with safety in mind since 2008. Upgrades to older schools have ongoing and are now even more of a priority for the school board.

Police also have Safety Resource Officers, or SROs, in every middle and high school. These officers visit elementary schools frequently as well and have familiarized themselves with the layout of those schools.

In the schools, administrators hold lock-down drills to prepare teachers and students. They lock down in their classrooms and hide. Parents want administrators to look at different ways to approach the drills so kids are prepared for every circumstance.

One Forest Park senior drove to the other end of the county to participate in the meeting. He told panelists how frightening it is to live with these threats at his school.

“Students, we’re worried and we’re scared,” he said. “My school has a lot of threats against us. Someone pulled the fire alarm during passing time and lunch.”

He knew that the Parkland shooter also pulled the fire alarm, which made him freeze in place, not knowing if he should leave his classroom.

“Kids were thinking it was funny,” he said. He heard them laughing and slamming lockers, but to many, it sounded like it could have been gunshots.

Panelists said inside locked rooms are the safest places in the event of a shooting. Students need to find an open door, go inside and lock themselves in, if they find themselves in the hallway.

Parents of young children wanted more information to reinforce the drills at home. They said their children come home scared and they did not know what to tell them.

One parent asked that the school send emails and text messages when drills are occurring so parents are not caught off guard. Panelists said that is a good idea.

One mom shared with Bristow Beat that when her son was bused from T. Clay Wood over to Nokesville because of a perceived threat in 2014, the bus driver scared the children, telling them there was a shooter on campus

When national events like Parkland happen, her son becomes very frightened. She and her husband both attended the meeting, and she told the room her son asks to be homeschooled. ‘Which is not happening,’ she joked.

She also took a step back to look at the totality of the situation, telling Bristow Beat: “people are acting like this is normal.” She said new normal makes her angry.

Trenum realizes security is a priority and wants to take immediate action. He hopes to allocate money for elementary school safety from the end of year FY18 funds in order to expedite the improvements.

Then the board can make more desired improvements as per the FY19 budget.

“These are not super expensive things,” he said.

He presented the proposal at the March 7 school board meeting, but many want more time to digest the changes.

One citizen asked that everyone write to their school board members urging them to approve the funds, saying they should not play politics with the children’s safety.

Others shared their questions and concerns as well. One teacher explained that she taught in the trailers and “trailer dwellers” want their classrooms as safe as everyone else’s. Crowe said he would visit and make some recommendations.

The event was bipartisan and people shared ideas and came together to discuss issues and share information.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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