After Fla. shooting, schools tighten security, field threats and reassure parents
Schools across the Washington region tightened security and reviewed safety measures in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Florida high school, even as two Maryland school systems fielded threats of violence. In Montgomery County, parents arrived by the dozens Friday to pick up students from Northwest High School after the principal messaged families that police were investigating an online threat. “At this time the police do not have any credible information to support the validity of this threat,” principal Jimmy D’Andrea wrote early Friday.
Even so, parents descended in short order. By 11 a.m., 650 parents had collected their children from the Germantown school. “For a lot of people, it seemed like it had the potential of imminently happening here,” said Susan Burkinshaw, who has a daughter at Northwest and recalled a flurry of text messages and Facebook posts among parents.
School systems across the country scrambled to handle similar threats and to scrutinize safeguards as the nation reeled from the horror at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. A school district south of Nashville decided to cancel classes for students Monday so that employees can spend the day focused on security. All schools have safety plans, but the goal is to come together, provide a refresher, “go back to the basics” and possibly air a few ideas, said Carol Birdsong, spokeswoman for the Williamson County Schools.
“I apologize for the short notice but feel that such an action is required,” Mike Looney, the Williamson superintendent, said in a tweet. [Copycat threats and rumors of ‘Florida pt 2’ put schools on high alert after shooting rampage] In the Washington area, school systems sought to reassure students, parents and teachers that campuses are safe.
Many high schools have security personnel and at least one campus police officer, known as a school resource officer. In Montgomery County, Police Capt. Paul Starks noted the Northwest High incident was one of 10 to 12 threats involving county schools since Wednesday.
Some were easily debunked, he said, while others proved more complex to investigate. They showed up in text messages, social media posts or verbal expressions, he said. Starks emphasized the importance of reporting potential problems expeditiously and warned against students making false posts, urging parents to talk to their children. “There are real consequences to posting this stuff and making these threats,” he said.
Police arrested a 15-year-old student Friday in connection with the threat against Northwest, charging him with offenses relating to disrupting school operations. The incident at Northwest came a day after Montgomery police arrested a teenager who allegedly stowed a loaded 9mm Glock handgun in his bookbag and brought it to Clarksburg High. Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack Smith posted a message to families outlining safety measures, including emergency-preparedness drills, surveillance cameras, security staffing and access-control systems in schools.
The school system has been doing a school-by-school analysis of security since last spring, when concerns were raised by an alleged rape at a Rockville high school. [Security review to be launched in wake of Rockville High School rape case] “People are really anxious and want to know what we can do to keep their kids safe,” Montgomery County school spokesman Derek Turner said.
Schools received some mistaken reports of threats, he said, but “people are doing the right thing: See something, say something.” In Prince George’s County, two middle schools received threats in the days after Wednesday’s shooting in Florida. One came through Snapchat, leading to the arrest of a middle school student Friday, said schools spokesman John White.
The second involved a student at another school, who made a verbal threat Friday and was disciplined. School leaders in Prince George’s will analyze security practices and discuss what can be learned from recent events, White said. In a message to families Friday, district leaders described their efforts to keep schools safe and encouraged parents to monitor students’ social media usage and speak with children about any troubling behavior they have observed.
[Student arrested after bringing loaded gun to Maryland high school] In Fairfax County, heightened security wasn’t in response to a specific threat made in the Northern Virginia school system but was done to ease anxiety, according to a message from district officials. “This step is being taken out of an abundance of caution, and to provide reassurance to students, staff and the community after the events that occurred in Florida,” the district said in the message.
Security was increased at campuses, according to the message. Fairfax County police ordered officers to patrol closer to schools — a common response following school shootings or other national events, said Emilie Voss, spokeswoman with the Fairfax police department. Frederick Amico, the principal at Fairfax’s Langley High School, issued a statement offering reassurance.
“In light of recent events, I have received numerous inquiries regarding the security of our students,” he said. “I want to assure everyone in our community that the safety and security of our students is our number one priority.” School officials in Arlington County reminded students to share concerns if they see or hear anything that troubles them, spokesman Frank Bellavia said. Schools sent messages to families reiterating security procedures the district has in place.
Loudoun County schools are working to ensure safety protocols are followed by reemphasizing measures such as keeping doors locked and identifying visitors before allowing them to enter schools, spokesman Wayde Byard said.