Virginia Beach schools receive influx of threats, task force launched to review safety concerns

Virginia Beach Public Schools, like schools across the country, have seen an increase in disruptive behavior and threats that have left school communities scrambling to address safety concerns.

Since January, Superintendent Aaron Spence said, the school system has sent nearly 60 messages to families regarding threats. He did not have specific numbers for how often schools received threats in previous years, but he said it is “way up” this year.

He attributed this rise in threats and disruptive classroom behavior largely to the pandemic and cited studies that show teachers across the nation reporting more concerns about student behavior.

“We know all of our students have experienced these past few years disrupted and interrupted learning in different ways, but one of the things that I think is really clear is that most of our students had some sort of emotional toll taken as a result of those experiences,” Spence said.

But how to meet those emotional and social needs while maintaining a safe learning environment is the “heart of the question.”

Spence announced a new task force will be formed to join forces with the city which will focus on reviewing the different directions the school system can go in to begin to address school safety.

Currently, the division is looking at increasing the number of behavior intervention specialists, school counselors, psychologists and social workers. This step has been included in the proposed budget. Spence also noted this year marked the first year of a program to introduce more armed school security officers. He said these officers alongside school resource officers are trained to work in school environments and with children, which is different from being a patrol officer.

However, as more and more school divisions look to enhance their security with metal detectors and weapons detection systems, Virginia Beach schools are still considering their options.

“I think there’s a mixed bag of evidence about the effectiveness of that, and I think there are some serious considerations that we would have to understand before we were to do that,” Spence said.

He also worried that adding metal detectors could give people “a false sense of security,” and he hopes to ensure any steps the division takes moving forward is done to assure school security is enhanced. The schools now have wand metal detectors and there are some used in situations like athletic events.

The task force will work with city counter parts in the security and mental and behavioral health fields to talk through and come to an agreement on a variety of issues related to school safety.

Spence spoke with reporters Monday, days after multiple Ocean Lakes High School students were arrested in connection to threats made against a teacher.

School safety has taken center stage for many Hampton Roads schools in the weeks following the Richneck Elementary School shooting. Following the shooting, Newport News families, teachers and community members expressed frustrations that student discipline and safety concerns had not been addressed appropriately.

Then again this month, another 6-year-old student reportedly brought a handgun to Little Creek Elementary School in Norfolk, resulting in the student’s mother being charged.

Since then, Newport News Public Schools have announced increased security measures. Similarly, many school divisions in the region announced plans to enhance school security with new weapons detection systems and additional security officers.

In an effort to address school safety matters with families, Virginia Beach Public Schools will host webinars and parent workshops to help families navigate these concerns and learn more about the schools’ procedures.

The first of these webinars will be hosted with Virginia Beach police Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for elementary school families and 6:30 p.m. for secondary school families. Those interested in attending can register online. The deadline to submit questions is Tuesday night by 5.

Kelsey Kendall,