During its first meeting after an 18-year-old gunman used a legally-purchased AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle to murder 21 people, including 19 students between the ages of 9 and 11, and injure 17 others in Uvalde, TX, members of the Henry County School Board discussed safety in the local school division.
Terri Flanagan, of the Horsepasture District, said “With all that’s gone on in our country the past weeks, we have got to make sure they (the students) understand that if they see something that’s unusual, if they hear something, if they get a text, if they know somebody that’s struggling, please let them know they can say something to somebody without fear of being recognized.
“We’ve got to do some of this stuff. This was the most,” she said, pausing as she referenced the Uvalde incident. When she spoke again, her voice was choked with emotion, “horrible, horrible thing that has ever happened in our country and these kids did not deserve this, and people knew. There were people out there that knew that something was wrong.”
Multiple news outlets have reported that the gunman hinted at his plans, including posting a photo of two rifles to his social media, which did not escape the notice of students and former students who knew the man. He also video chatted with a teen girl in Germany as he visited a gun store, unpacked a box of ammunition he ordered online, and displayed a duffle bag containing ammunition and a rifle.
In a May news conference, police said the gunman previously asked his sister to purchase a gun for him. Though she refused, he ultimately purchased two rifles himself after his 18th birthday, which was just days before the attack.
“We as parents cannot keep them safe after they go off to school,” Flanagan said. “They have to do the best they can do to keep themselves and their friends and their teachers as safe as they can. So, please remember to talk to them, send something out to tell them they need to step up and talk about these things. It’s a different world out there today, and we’ve got to do something to change all of this.”
Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said, “safety is and always has been and continues to be a priority for Henry County Schools. As new laws are coming out about safety procedures and protocols … I’m happy to say we’re ahead of the curve because a lot of those laws, when they came out, we’re already doing those, so we can focus on the next step.”
Strayer said the school division’s safety and crisis plan had multiple layers, all designed to keep schools safe.
“Some of it we share, some we don’t, because we want to keep those things private” for security purposes, she explained. However, a “huge part” of the plan developed by the crisis team is relationships. “It’s talking to people, it’s understanding when people look different, speak differently, we do something about it.”
She said that United Way provides an anonymous hotline for students and families to report any concerns, and “we also have our wonderful resource officers that spend time in lunchrooms and car rider duties, in hallways and classrooms” talking to students and building relationships, “and that truly makes a difference when you can confide in a person that’s in your building that’s there to keep you safe.”
Strayer said school safety was a “passion project” for Director of Facilities Maintenance Keith Scott.
Scott told the board that the safety committee, which is made up of administrators from each level of the school buildings, including central office staff, transportation, and school nutrition, as well as a representative from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, meets every other month to discuss issues across HCPS campuses.
“It’s not one individual, it’s every individual working together,” Scott said, adding that Director of Communications Monica Hatchett brings up safety at each principals’ meeting. “Obviously, it is at the forefront of our discussions. It keeps us up at night. We have a lot of procedures in place,” and safety team members are always bringing up new ideas and new technologies at each meeting.
Even though the state requires a building security audit every three years, he said HCPS performs a quarterly audit at each site, sending information back to principals to point out any issues they uncovered.
“We know that the most prized possession of any parent is their child,” Strayer said. “When they drop their child off at our doors, they become our most important concern. I treat that child like they’re mine. That’s how we all at HCPS feel that we should treat those children to ensure their safety.”
A 2018 study published by the FBI, which examined active shooter incidents in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013, found that of the 63 active shooters examined in the study, “on average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter. The most frequently occurring concerning behaviors were related to the active shooter’s mental health, problematic interpersonal reactions, and leakage of violent intent.”
According to the study, when such behaviors were observed by others, “the most common response was to communicate directly to the active shooter (83%) or do nothing (54%). In 41% of the cases the concerning behavior was reported to law enforcement.”
Students and teachers were most likely to observe these concerning behaviors in people under the age of 18, the study found.
According to data collected by journalists working for the independent news organization Education Week, which covers K-12 education, there have been 27 school shootings in 2022 and 119 since the organization began tracking such incidents in 2018.
Data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Naval Postgraduate School’s K-12 School Shooting database, which collects information on shooting incidents at K-12 schools beginning in 1970 indicated that 43.1 percent of school shooters are students.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved bonuses in the amount of $1,200 for all eligible full-time and part-time employees for a total estimated fiscal impact of $1,493,041. An appropriation of $121,429 from the HCPS Administration/Attendance and Health Budget was recommended to fund the cost of bonuses for eligible School Nutrition staff. It was forwarded to the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
*Recognized a number of students for year-end achievements.
*Approved the consent agenda, which included grant applications for Title II, Part A; Title III, Part A; and Title IV, Part A for the 2022-2023 school year and the Title V, Rural-Low Income School Funding application.
*Approved the 2022-2023 Title I, Part A Improving Basic Program Grant Application.
*Approved revisions to the Student Code of Conduct concerning the student dress code and the use of personal electronic devices.
*Approved the Athletics & Activities Handbook.
*Awarded a contract for sanitation and safety services, including supplying non-toxic cleaning and ware-washing supplies, to PortionPac Chemical Corporation and authorized the division to exercise subsequent renewals in accordance with the terms of the contract. PortionPac is the current vendor and was the only vendor to respond to a request for proposals. The estimated fiscal impact is $42,732, which will come from the FY22-23 cafeteria operating budget. The value of the contract will exceed $228,660 if renewed annually for five years.
*Awarded a contract for the purchase of dairy products for school cafeterias to United Dairy, Inc. of Roanoke and authorized the division to exercise subsequent renewals in accordance with the terms of the contract. United Dairy was the only vendor that responded to the request for proposals. The estimated fiscal impact is $410,000 from the FY23 cafeteria operating budget.
*Awarded a contract for new steer tires to Kirby Greer Enterprises, LLC doing business as Cunningham Tire of Bassett, and a bid for recapped tires to Jimmy’s Retreading of Collinsville, and authorized the division to exercise subsequent renewals of each contract in accordance with the terms of the respective contract. The approximate cost of tires for the upcoming 2022/2023 school year is a maximum of $147,375. According to Dr. David Scott, assistant superintendent for operations and administrative services, HCPS uses approximately 275 new tires on steering axles and 375 reconditioned tires on rear axles each year.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $102,579 to the special grants category for fiscal year 2022 and forwarded the appropriation request to the Henry County Board of Supervisors. HCPS will receive additional funding from the Virginia Department of Education as part of the Students with Intensive Support Needs (SISNA) Grant for the FY22 school year to be carried over to the 2022/2023 year that will exceed the current overall amount budgeted for the special grants category, hence the need for the additional appropriation.