A town hall meeting hosted by three parent committees Wednesday took an emotional turn when an audience member asked whether enough was being done to prevent a mass school shooting in Loudoun.
The question was directed toward members of the Loudoun County School Board and the Board of Supervisors during the joint town hall, called “Let’s Get Together,” put on by the Special Education Advisory Committee, Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee and Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents.
The response: In short, “yes.”
The answer School Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) gave triggered loud applause from the audience. She said leaders in Loudoun’s schools and law enforcement agencies take student safety very seriously and have the protocols in place to respond to emergencies.
When one of her children’s classmates, a Park View High School student, was shot and killed in September on his way to the bus stop, Sheridan said she did not “for a second” worry that her child was not safe.
“Those students were in the very capable and well-trained hands of our teachers, our administrators, as well as the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office,” she said. Students were kept in locked classrooms until the suspects had been detained.
“It was run so smoothly,” Sheridan said. She stood and leaned closer to the microphone to make her point. “I can’t say it enough: Our students are safe.”
School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) agreed that the school system has sufficient protocols in place. All of the school buildings are locked and visitors must show identification before they are allowed to enter. Then, they’re asked to sign in and wear a sticker that indicates they are a guest.
But only so much can be done, he stressed.
“As a School Board, we cannot prevent mass shootings. If we could put bars around the school, what would we do about school buses? If we put bars around buses, what would we do about bus stops? It’s a sad fact.”
Morse noted that the previous night the School Board approved funding for full-time principals at all schools, a decision he said was about student safety. Four of the county’s schools have part-time principals.
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he’s looked into what it would cost to install bolted locks on classroom doors. “There’s state code against that,” he said, “but I’ll continue to look at other creative steps we can take to try to prevent it.”
Debbie Rose (Algonkian) also encouraged people to follow the safety measures that are in place, such as cooperating with office staff when they ask to see an ID before entering a school. “People are sometime not happy about that, but it’s the first line of defense. … We need to be respectful of that process.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who works as a mental health therapist for Prince William County, said it really does take the entire community to prevent tragedies like mass shootings. After an attack on the public, those who know the attacker often look back and acknowledge they saw warning signs.
She encouraged parents to be nosy; talk to their children’s friends, follow statements made on social media and monitor any mood changes. “The schools do a terrific job, but it’s also incumbent on the parents and communities to monitor ourselves.”
The administration at Loudoun Valley High School commended students for reporting a rumor that a classmate was considering bombing the school. The threat turned out to be unsubstantiated after school resource officers investigated, and a Loudoun Valley student now faces charges for making the threat, according to the sheriff’s office. Still, it scared dozens of parents into keeping their children home from school. After rumor of an attack went viral on social media, 30 percent of Loudoun Valley students stayed home from school Jan. 19.
Loudoun Now Managing Editor Danielle Nadler facilitated the “Let’s Get Together” joint town hall.