Prince Edward School Board asks about emergency plan

Published 12:47 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

FARMVILLE – What’s the plan to keep students safe? Who decides when a lockdown goes into effect on campus? Who then decides when to lift it? The Prince Edward County School Board had questions for staff during their Wednesday, Feb. 8 meeting. 

After several situations over the last six months involving what turned out to be rumors and false information, board members wanted to know what the process is for handling a crisis. 

“When there is an emergency, the principal notifies the superintendent and then appropriate steps are taken,” said Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson. 

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As for what happens next, that depends on what kind of emergency it is. If you’re dealing with a child falling on the playground, a suicidal student trying to kill themselves or an active weapons threat, each one is handled very differently, she said. 

“The principal should always notify us,” Johnson said. “If it is a crisis, then we follow the steps (in the crisis plan). If we ever do have a dangerous situation, we have resource officers in our schools, deputies in our school, we have a security officer in our elementary school. We make decisions based on their consultation. We always generally follow their recommendations.” 

Johnson added that everyone knows what the appropriate steps are in a crisis and people on staff have different roles.

Board member Susan Kimbrough asked if all teachers know what to do, if they have regular training in those roles. 

“I will not say yes to that,” Johnson said. “I will say we have regular practice around our drills. We have regular drills.”  

“But that’s not the same thing,” Kimbrough said. 

Johnson acknowledged that point, saying “as far as training for the crisis team, I can’t say we have regular trainings.”  

Prince Edward School Board asks about rumors

The biggest question involved rumors and misinformation. On Wednesday, Aug. 31 of last year, the sight of multiple sheriff’s deputies and the canine unit at Prince Edward County High sparked concern with parents, who called both The Herald and the school district’s office, wanting to know what was going on. 

Within a few minutes, posts popped up on social media, claiming everything from an active shooter situation to a bomb being discovered on campus. In reality, it was a previously routine drug search, but one that thanks to the pandemic, hadn’t happened in the last two years. 

Another time in the last couple of months, a rumor went out on social media that a student had been stabbed during a fight. However, this turned out to be just a verbal stabbing. 

“No one has been stabbed in our schools,” Johnson said. “There was a fight with two girls. When they were separated, someone said ‘you stabbed me in the back’. A child texted that to their parent, the parent put it out there and we dealt with it.” 

Overall, Johnson said, the district administration doesn’t address rumors, unless it is something that has completely gotten out of control. As an example, she pointed to that Aug. drug search, which had parents coming to get their children from what they believed was a dangerous situation. 

“That escalated, because people saw a police presence, someone (posted on social media) and it went from there,” Johnson said. “At that point, I have to address a rumor.” 

Board members however brought up another recent example, when a teacher heard what she thought were gunshots from the elementary school. She informed the principal and the resource officer. The board asked why didn’t the school go into lockdown, just in case? 

 “I felt as though we should, every single time, err on the side of caution because the number one thing we’re responsible for is the safety of these children,” Kimbrough said. 

Johnson also told the board that under the crisis plan, she’s the one who authorizes lockdowns in the district. However, a building principal can also do that if there’s a need. In this case, students were taken off the playground for a few minutes, at the sheriff’s suggestion. And Sheriff Tony Epps came over, along with several deputies, to investigate. When the sheriff said there was no issue, things went back to normal. 

“We’re confident in our crisis plan,” Johnson said, pointing out that it had been certified by the state last August.