Board members have questions about Prince Edward’s crisis plan

Published 1:21 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

FARMVILLE – The Prince Edward County School Board wants to take another look at the district’s crisis plan. Instead of signing off on the document, members asked questions during their meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 9, wondering why it didn’t match up with state guidelines.

Richard Goode, the district’s director of support services, presented the PECPS 2023-2024 Crisis Plan at the board’s meeting for certification.

The crisis plan is brought to the board every year for approval and adjustments if needed. It is supposed to cover school safety practices in the case of a crisis or medical emergency.

Why is there a lack of changes?

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Board member Kelly Forsythe brought up that the plan is supposed to be reviewed annually but previous revisions dating back to 2016 only show changes to names and asked for clarification on the review process. Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson responded that even though it may not change every year it is brought before the board.

“We have a crisis review team that we do here at Central Office, then we send it out to the schools and ask the administration to look at it to see if they see any changes or anything they see that needs to be changed in the program,” said Goode.

Goode assured the board that any changes they want to make can be made as it is a plan for the whole school district, not just one entity.

Forsythe found several differences between what is cited in the Code of Virginia and what is cited in the school board policy and mentioned she didn’t see those concerns addressed in the new plan. Board member Susan Kimbrough added her thoughts on why the board doesn’t take time each year to look it over in comparison to the state’s plan.

“We are not out of compliance and we are empowering our staff to make decisions as a committee,” said Johnson. “This is what the staff chose for us as a division. We will never do anything that is out of compliance but if the board feels as if we need to more closely follow those model policies or the board wants us to add something additionally we will do that. But this has been strictly reviewed by staff.”

More about the crisis plan

The model plan Forsythe referenced comes from the Department of Education and the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, written by experts with input from various school divisions. According to Forsythe, Prince Edward’s plan doesn’t follow what is considered best practices around crisis response and emergency management.

“At least it doesn’t explicitly explain how it does that or doesn’t do that,” she said. “So if we are going to do something that doesn’t follow a model document that’s provided by the state, I would want to have a rationale for not having that document. To me, it seems odd that in seven years, there’s nothing that’s needed to change in an emergency situation.”

Fellow board member Dr. Timothy W. Corbett Sr. posed the question of if they needed everything in the model to be successful. With each school division being unique, he wondered if there is a valid reason to not follow everything in the model. Goode gave examples of how things like being near airports or railroad tracks are something that affects schools differently depending on their location.

Kimbrough then asked if by picking and choosing if they are leaving important things out of the plan.

“If we have not sat down with the most current state model and compared it to ours, then we’re running a huge risk,” she said. “I get it, it hasn’t been broken because we haven’t had to use it so we don’t know… We haven’t had to use it on a really big scale and we’ve been lucky in that respect.”

Johnson and School Board Chair Lucy Carson encouraged the board to send in their concerns and wants for this plan so that Goode could take them into consideration and come to next month’s meeting with a new plan for approval.