Tips for parents when "threats" shut down area schools

Tips for parents when "threats" shut down area schools
Kate Cassada, Ed.D. discusses tips for parents facing vague threats in public schools
Kate Cassada, Ed.D. discusses tips for parents facing vague threats in public schools
Colonial Heights Police cruiser outside the city's middle school, Oct. 8, 2015
Colonial Heights Police cruiser outside the city's middle school, Oct. 8, 2015

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It is the end of a tense week for schools across the Richmond region, after threats from students sent at least six school buildings into lockdown or added extra security to classrooms.

After law enforcement charged at least one local student with a felony, parents now face the question of how to react when incidents with few details may put students in danger.

In an interview Friday, Dr. Kate Cassada of the University of Richmond said parents should be alert, but not overwhelmed when they see news from their school districts or surrounding areas.

Cassada served as a Hanover County Public Schools teacher, senior teacher, assistant principal and principal, and stressed that students should know they can quietly seek help from staff when something seems wrong.

"Too often, kids think if they say something, they have to make a big deal about it in public and risk being ostracized by their peers," Cassada said.

"Kids need to know that they carry a lot of information in their buildings, and they know things that the adults don't necessarily know. They can always keep quiet, and simply pull one teacher aside."

Illustrating her point, Northern Virginia students saw a student with a gun Tuesday, and did not report the incident to Culpeper school leaders until the following day.

Explaining how to avoid a dangerous lag time in reporting incidents, Cassada took on the scenario of what parents should do if a child spots a post online about a student who may bring a gun to school, soon.

"I think what a parent needs to do is get as many facts as possible, and then make a phone call," Cassada said.

"That first phone call should be to your child's principal, or someone in the school system, even if it's after hours. If that doesn't work, police should be next."

"Immediately you need to reach out, because tomorrow might be too late to share that information. Either the situation could be escalating, or if a child had a weapon, it's no longer around."

A school district's Facebook page is also a new way to stay connected, with Colonial Heights Public Schools posting a message to middle school parents in case they could not be reached through robocall.

Nearly a third of all students at Colonial Heights Middle School stayed home Friday, in response to a drawing of a gun with a date scrawled in a bathroom.

"I would never fault any parent for wanting to keep their child home," Cassada said. "But I do know one thing. If school administrators are in the building, then they must feel safe. They wouldn't be there otherwise."

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