Roanoke County Schools increase security after recent threats

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter
Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS10)-- Two students face charges in connection to separate threats at William Byrd High School and Northside High School. Meanwhile, police are still looking into additional threats at both schools as well as one at Hidden Valley High School.

The investigation comes after six separate threats and school evacuations were made in just two weeks. Teenagers typically have more freedom once they reach high school, but because of recent threats, a lot of that freedom is being taken away-- for the sake of safety.

According to a message sent out to parents, students are now being more closely watched, especially in the hallways between classes and coming in and out of the bathrooms. Teachers are also having to check the bathrooms more often, making sure there are no messages left behind on the walls.

"I do think it's sad that it's gotten to that point," says School Board Member, Tom McCracken. "But it is necessary at this point. When you've gotten that many threats, and these threats naturally go up in the springtime, so it's not just isolated at Northside. We're putting these rules in place temporarily."

McCracken has a daughter that attends Northside High School. She says as more threats continued to roll in, students have started taking them less seriously.

"We were all scared a lot the first time," says McCracken's daughter, Kristy. "Most of us were scared the second time when we got that bomb threat, but it has kind of faded out. Some of the kids weren't as scared, they were just annoyed."

That's a problem that could lead to students becoming desensitized and unphased if a real threat were to happen.

"Every young person needs to understand, this is not just a way to get outside on a pretty day," says Tom McCracken. "By being a part of this desensitization, they would have many lives on their hands if, God forbid, a credible threat is realized."

The repeated evacuations are also cutting into classroom time, disrupting hours of learning, at a point that is extremely important to teachers-- just before SOL testing.

Now, school leaders are planning another step, reaching out to parents. McCracken has called a community meeting at Northside High School on Monday, May 2. He says he wants to get parents together with the superintendent and Roanoke County Police Chief, to talk about the recent threats and issues as well as some ways to address them. He says he's also hoping to introduce Northside High School's new principal at that meeting as well.

"There are a lot of positive things I'd like to communicate," he says. "Things that we've changed, policy and procedures to keep our kids safe. There's less walking in the halls. We know who's using the bathroom and when they're using the bathrooms. A lot of positive things have taken place, and I'd like Monday night to bring us all together to hear about those positive things."

These are changes that some students, like McCracken's daughter, say makes them feel safer.

"I think we should be concerned," says Kristy. "Obviously, if a person is making a threat, it's scary. If they can make a threat, they can actually come and do something. We shouldn't just be blowing it off like it's nothing, and that's what some people are doing."

Monday's community meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Northside High School.

Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved