Richmond school officials on Tuesday defended their decision not to notify parents immediately of Monday’s lockdown at Huguenot High School, saying that a student has confessed to making up the threat to the school.
About 10:45 a.m. Monday, Richmond police told school officials that “a call came in that someone within Huguenot High School was being threatened by someone with a weapon.” The school immediately issued a “Code Red,” a crisis condition during which students and staff members are told to “return students to class and secure,” according to the school district.
The school maintained that status until about 2 p.m. when police gave the school district the all-clear.
More than 100 parents had amassed outside the school soon after police arrived, alarmed by frantic text messages from their children hiding inside the school and the lack of communication from school officials.
On Tuesday, officials defended the school system’s usual policy of notifying parents of a school lockdown only after police clear the situation.
“This type of situation is exactly why we do not rush to notify parents before all of the details are gathered,” RPS spokeswoman Kenita Bowers said in an email Tuesday about the hoax. “Premature communications and knee-jerk reports often contribute to heightened fear and anxiety.”
Superintendent Jason Kamras addressed the growing number of concerned parents outside the school during Monday’s lockdown, telling them around noon that police officers hadn’t found anything while searching in the building, and that an early dismissal was likely.
“All students are safe,” he said.
Despite that assurance, parents remained on edge until their children were released at 2:15 p.m., about 3½ hours after initial reports of the potential threat were reported.
“We always work to notify parents as quickly as possible, however this is also dependent upon the circumstances,” Bowers said in a statement Tuesday. “Student safety is our number one priority, so parents can rest assured that they will be notified immediately if their child is perceived to be in any immediate danger.”
School systems in Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties said they try to inform parents of lockdowns as soon as possible.
While none commented directly about RPS’ policy, spokespeople from Henrico and Hanover schools said they may issue an initial alert, then provide updates as more information becomes available.
“Our goal is to notify parents as quickly as possible upon learning of a lockdown,” said Chris Whitley, spokesman for Hanover County Public Schools. “These are rapidly evolving situations, so it takes time to sort out the details. As a result, our initial communication to parents is very brief (alerting them of a lockdown due to a possible threat). Any other relevant and verified information is communicated as quickly as possible to keep parents informed.”
Andy Jenks said Henrico County Public Schools’ response varies, depending on the situation. He said in rare cases, the system would update parents as information is confirmed, even before a situation is resolved.
“In general, we believe the parent community has the expectation of being made aware, in a timely manner, of situations that involve or impact school safety,” he said. “We make every effort to get accurate and reliable information to parents as quickly as possible in hopes of keeping parents fully informed of students’ safety, along with keeping rumors and misinformation to a minimum. The length of time will vary depending on how long it takes for accurate information to become available.”
Bowers said the student who confessed in the Huguenot incident will be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with RPS’ Student Code of Responsible Ethics handbook. The handbook states that “threats to property” such as bomb or terrorist threats could result in expulsion and criminal charges.
Richmond police said they are still investigating the incident but have not filed charges.
None of the school systems on Tuesday would say how often their schools had experienced lockdowns in the past year or how many hoaxes had been reported. Last year, more than 9,000 threats were made against Virginia schools, according to state data.
While Huguenot was locked down on Monday, Thomas Jefferson High School also received a prank threat.
During last week’s nationwide walkout demonstrations in which students protested gun violence in schools, there were threats made against two Chesterfield schools, prompting an evacuation at L.C. Bird High School. In Goochland County, officials said a social media threat, which indicated that students who participated in the walkout would be shot, was not credible.
On March 9, a 16-year-old was charged in Henrico with making threats of bodily injury to people on school property, a day after a threatening message that mentioned Glen Allen, Mills Godwin and Deep Run high schools was “circulating through the community via social media,” authorities said.
In the wake of an attack on a Florida high school that killed 17 students and staff members last month, threats abounded in Virginia. At least 10 schools from Hampton Roads to Southwest Virginia reported operating with an increased police presence, though all of the reported threats were ultimately dismissed as hoaxes and no district reported canceling classes, according to news reports and official statements.
In the Richmond area, officials at Hanover High School canceled a pep rally that had been scheduled for Feb. 19 after rumors began circulating about a social media post threatening a shooting and describing a list of targets.
Hanover High Principal Kris Reece said in an email to parents the day before the rally that an investigation determined the rumors were unfounded and that officials don’t believe a threat ever existed.