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After Florida, frayed nerves at Bluestone / February 21, 2018
In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives, Mecklenburg County became one of at least 11 school divisions in Virginia to encounter death threats that stirred fear and anxiety in the community.

While the Friday morning threat that surfaced at Bluestone High School was found by authorities to be “not credible,” parents, students and others were understandably on edge after the mass slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where an expelled student gunned down youths and adult school employees with an AR-15 assault rifle.

Several Bluestone parents posted on social media that they were taking their children out of the school for the day, while others are calling for metal detectors to be installed at entrances to the school. At least one mother said she is considering home schooling her child.

Schools divisions from Hampton Roads to Russell County in southwest Virginia have received similar, possible copycat threats in the past week. In each case, investigating officers found no imminent danger, though several students were arrested for making the threats.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols acknowledged that the call for metal detectors and other safety measures was “something to consider despite the significant cost,” and he promised the topic would be an integral part of design discussions for Mecklenburg’s new high school-middle school complex.

Existing school buildings have their limitations when it comes to safety, he explained. “These buildings were designed and constructed in the 1950s when there was no thought of school shootings or similar threats,” said Nichols, referring to the county’s four middle and high schools.

That said, Nichols added that he is not discounting the need to protect students now, and not merely wait for new facilities to be built. “There are measures in place to protect students and staff.”

Each county high school and middle school has a full-time resource officer, especially trained for the job, and an emergency plan, written in conjunction with local police, fire and EMS officials. At least twice a semester, staff and students participate in an emergency response drill.

As often happens in the aftermath of a shooting event or scare, people weigh in on the issue. One Bluestone parent asked people to step back and view Friday’s events from the perspective of the student who issued the death threat.

Kimberly Mullins took to social media to express her concern for the student who is said to have made the threat, wondering what drove him to such an action. She wrote, “Today, a boy I am somewhat familiar with made a threat to our high school. This threat resulted in his arrest. There was no gun found at the school. I will not condone what he did, but I will say this:

“We are all responsible for this young man. I have heard the children make fun of him. I’ve heard adults make fun of him. This is a deeply wounded child. Not by his parents, who I have only seen show him kindness, support, and unconditional love. He is wounded by us. He is different, and we all fear what is different.

“We have to start at home. We have to teach our children that different is okay. Different is beautiful. It’s not to be feared but embraced.”

Nichols spoke about efforts to stave off potential problems of violence, verbal abuse and acts of vengeance seeking in the schools. Teachers and guidance counselors have received professional development on how to deal with bullying. Students in middle school participate in the “I Am Enough” character development program, where they taught about self-worth and how to make positive choices when faced with peer pressures. The school division is currently seeking grant money for another similarly focused program.

Del. Tommy Wright, asked for his views on the Bluestone incident and general issues of school violence, called for the schools to take measures to control access to school property and train and equip additional security officers to “protect children and school personnel.”

When asked to define the role of the General Assembly in stemming school violence, Wright retorted, “What laws do you pass to address evil and violence?

“Laws can’t solve that problem. This world has changed so much due to violence and laws won’t change that.”

Wright said he would not commit to introducing a budget amendment that would fund additional school security personnel or metal detectors. Instead, he spoke of the need for parents to monitor children’s social media activity and to be vigilant and aware of problems their child may be having at school or with their peers. He also spoke of his support for funding programs to help people dealing with mental health issues.

To date, there is no evidence that the Bluestone youth suffers from any mental illness.

In an earlier conversation, Nichols shared his concern over legislation wending its way through the General Assembly that would limit the ability of school officials to punish students who bully or threaten others, and prohibit schools from suspending or expelling these students. When asked about this legislation, Wright criticized the General Assembly for taking away tools that the school systems need. “Schools should be allowed to expel or suspend problem students.”

State Sen. Frank Ruff, also asked to weigh in on issues of school violence and shootings, said, “It is illegal to carry a gun on school property, therefore law abiding citizens do not. It is silly to pass legislation knowing that those who do not abide by the law will ignore it as they do now.”

Instead of more laws, Ruff called on the press to stop making “media stars” of the shooters and others who simply threaten violence. Like Wright, Ruff suggested that schools should install personnel “trained to respond when a crisis arises.” Mecklenburg already has such personnel in place and the training.

Ruff also spoke of states that allow “well-trained staff to carry [concealed weapons] on school property,” but did not say if he would support or oppose similar legislation in Virginia. His remarks mirror comments made by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has suggested that states consider training and arming teachers as a way to stop school shootings.

When asked if he would seek money in the state budget for additional resource officers or funding to pay for alternative education programs, Ruff said, “We are past the point to find much new money this year.” He also suggested he would not support the expansion of alternative education, saying, “I do not support efforts being made for the General Assembly to override local decisions. I do, however, support a better system of watching and maintaining records of questionable behavior.”

According to Ruff, too often “records of questionable behavior are not carried forward year to year for the next teacher or school to be on the lookout for problems.” Some teachers, notably special education teachers, have expressed disagreement with that view. They say students’ serious infractions are often included in their permanent record.

In the end, there appears to be no consensus of how best to address problems related to violence or questionable behavior among students in the school division. Kimberly Mullins suggested the following about the student involved in Friday’s incident at Bluestone High School.

“This young man is ours. He’s in our village. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him and it saddens me deeply that this happened. But what I can hope for is that we show our kindness and forgiveness to his parents and to him. Maybe we can begin teaching our children to love, accept, and cherish each other even when we don’t necessarily understand each other.”

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Well at least the pols made sense this time. Social media is going to be the death of free speech. People today are so willing to give up liberty for security and when they do they will have neither. I would love to see the law changed that anyone that has a valid CCP can carry on school grounds including teachers.


I've worked in law enforcement and security for 38 years, including counter-terrorism and three tours overseas, one of which was as a security supervisor at the US Embassy in the combat zone in Afghanistan. My recommendation is that EVERY school in Mecklenburg County, including elementary schools, should have at least one armed good guy (law enforcement or security) there every day. I think teachers should teach, not carry guns. If you carry a gun, you must have both the skill and willingness to use it, and a law enforcement or military individual would be better suited for that. If they are security rather than sworn law enforcement officers, it should be made clear that they strictly do security work, and don't get involved in unrelated tasks such as disciplinary issues. And once this enormous new high school is built, it will probably need a minimum of two or three officers to cover it properly. As for the cost, just remember that we are talking about our children's lives.


"and a law enforcement or military individual would be better suited for that." I think you meant certain law enforcement.


At least Scot Peterson is safe at the end of his shift.


I agree 100% with Ms. Mullins!! She stated almost exactly what I told my son(who knows the accused)and my husband. I added that social media should not be used period-and we don't use it. People need to learn to accept others and treat everyone with respect. It has become way too cool to be cruel. It hurts my heart to know the student gets mad fun of my kids and adults. I have only seen his parents be sweet and kind and always at every awards ceremony and support their little man. Our children need to be taught that kindness goes so much further than being hateful and ugly. My son (who we moved out of bluestone to Randolph Henry) is thriving and tries every day to bring kindness to the school. It is amazing at the change in him. The children there are so different than at Bluestone. They actually help each other along, not just mock and make fun of. Maybe we all need to take a good long look at what we are teaching our children by acting kindly to others ourselves.

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