What started as a reaction to parent concerns over school security following an armed man entering Tuscarora High School in March has grown into a call for system-wide review of the Loudoun school district’s security and communication procedures.
A group of parents at Tuscarora are asking for a comprehensive review of school security practices—and emergency response communication plans after saying they did not get much of a response following the March incident and amid a rising national spotlight on school shootings. Or, at least, they want to start a deeper conversation about school security and communication among the various stakeholders, which includes parents, teachers, school administrators, school board members, the Leesburg Town Council and the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.
On March 19, Mi-Allah J. Grant, 18, entered Tuscarora with a sidearm while setting up a U.S. Air Force recruitment table. A school security officer confronted him and Leesburg Police arrested him on the felony charge of having a firearm on school property. The charges were later dropped by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Following the incident, parents sought answers about how the man got into the school with a firearm. When they got no official response, they started asking more questions, spoke before the school board and studied other security incidents throughout the system, as well as past incidents at the Leesburg school.
As they dug deeper into the issues, they found a lot of the same things happening over and over. The parents realized that the issue was more than one isolated incident. “It’s not Tuscarora. It’s a systemic problem,” said Jeff Mitchell, one of the parents pushing for safety improvements.
Two weeks ago, parents met with Tuscarora Principal Pamela Croft, who told them that she’s wanted to communicate more directly with them but feels limited by her superiors about what she can say. “The fact she feels this way is a significant problem,” parent Ryan Benton told the school board during its May 14 meeting. “Please communicate.”
The group of parents said that Croft has been helpful and even reached out to them for a face-to-face meeting. They just want to know why there isn’t a more coordinated effort to get the basic facts out faster, so that parents hear about incidents shortly after they happen instead of hearing about them three days later in the newspaper or on social media. “Why not tell the whole school?” asked parent Jill Weiss.
The parents also get the sense that the existing communications plan that deals with emergency response was created prior to the spread of social media. The school district posted a job notice in April to hire a director of communications and community engagement, and school board members have indicated a desire for someone with a background in emergency response communications for the position.
In the meantime, the parents just want to feel as if they are part of the overall education team, as laid out in the school system’s mission statement “to work closely with students, families and the community to provide a superior education, safe schools and a climate for success.”
“We are here to help,” Mitchell told members of the School Board during its May 14 meeting, noting that a month had passed since the board held a closed session on Tuscarora without any public statement. He and other parents expressed frustration with the school system’s central office for “not providing the resources and support to keep our students safe.”
“Nobody wants to respond. Everybody passes the buck,” said Weiss on Tuesday, after weeks of meetings with key stakeholders on the matter. The parents feel that several agencies, including the school system, the police and the Leesburg Town Council, are not communicating with each other, but are instead using runaround tactics. “That’s our impression from their actions,” Benton said.
“We haven’t stopped because our requests on this issue are totally reasonable,” he added. Parents said the school system appears to be reactionary instead of being proactive. While they think a system-wide review is needed, the parents would settle for better communications and a faster response the next time there is an incident. “We realize there’s no 100 percent foolproof plan [to address school security], but they need to do something.”