Local superintendents: Kids could face criminal charges, expulsion for making online threats

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Superintendents from the Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Franklin, and Williamsburg-James City County School Districts signed a one-page letter addressed to Hampton Roads families Wednesday.

The letter shows unity among the top school leadership after various districts received threats and several students got into trouble throughout various school districts.

Wednesday night, the Norfolk Superintendent read the letter at the monthly school district business meeting and praised the Norfolk Police, City Manager and the School Security Teams.

The letter reminds parents that students can get into serious trouble for threats made online.

After the massacre on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were gunned down by a former student, local police investigated threats made to various schools in our region. At least 10 students were taken into custody for different situations.

The letter encourages parents to speak to their kids about their feelings on the deadly shooting and monitor what kids are doing on social media.

As we mourn for those in Florida, Norfolk School Board Chairman Rodney Jordan said they’re taking questions from parents and students locally and giving a lot of attention to this issue.

“We are taking this very seriously or being very intentional about trying to do great communication, and frankly, we want parents to have these important conversations with their children,” said Jordan.

Criminal Justice Department Head at Tidewater Community College and former Norfolk Detective Richard James says each threat is investigated and said police and schools prepare for copycat scenarios.

“When you have a major school shooting like this, police departments across the country and school systems get set up and prepared for the copycat effect,” said James.

He said parents need to speak to their kids about the severity of making a threat online, on the phone or to others. He said parents too could potentially face charges if their child gets in trouble with the law.

Below is a copy of the letter sent home to Hampton Roads families:

February 21, 2018

Dear Hampton Roads Families:

Following last week’s school shooting in Florida, we all have experienced a wide range of emotions from shock and sorrow to anger that something like this could happen. Schools are a place where children deserve to learn free from fear.

The responsibility of keeping our schools safe belongs to everyone. In these times of heightened awareness, schools, parents, staff and the community at-large must remain ever vigilant in our efforts.

As you know, we have many security measures in place in our schools across Hampton Roads. In addition, as superintendents of the region, we are joining together with local police agencies to address disturbing social media posts or comments made that could be perceived as a threat. Any threat made against any one of our schools – even those made “as a joke” – will have serious repercussions, including potential criminal charges and a possible recommendation for expulsion from school.

We are reinforcing this message with students and we need your help at home. We all have a responsibility to treat information regarding school safety with caution; the oversharing of misinformation in most cases will create problems, not prevent them. We ask that any social media or other threat be reported directly to law enforcement and school officials, rather than shared through social media channels. Quite simply, if you hear or see something, say something.

We also encourage parents and caregivers to monitor students' online activity and to employ these strategies:

  • Know what websites and social media sites your child is using. Look at what they are posting and who they are following.
  • Stress that making a threat is not to be taken lightly and that there are severe consequences.
  • Talk with your child about recent local and national incidents. Explain that feelings such as sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear can be normal responses to tragedies for children and adults.
  • Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if your child needs assistance dealing with anxiety or feeling safe.
  • Contact your child's school and law enforcement if you believe your child is capable of making a threat and following through.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your children and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they become aware of a threat or rumor of violence.

Working together at school and at home, we can and will make a difference for our children and our community. You place your trust in us each and every day. As superintendents, we have no greater responsibility than to educate our children in a safe environment where they can learn and grow, without carrying the weight of fear and anxiety on their shoulders. Thank you in advance for partnering with us in this important work and for your assistance in keeping our children and communities safe.

Sincerely,

Dr. James Roberts, Chesapeake Public Schools Superintendent

Ms. Tamara Sterling, Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Jeffery Smith, Hampton City Schools Superintendent

Mr. Brian Nichols, Newport News Public

Dr. Jennifer Parish, Poquoson City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Elie Bracy, III, Portsmouth Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Deran Whitney, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Olwen Herron, Williamsburg-James City County Schools Superintendent