By Stefanie Jackson –
A parent of three Arcadia High School students and an Accomack supervisor criticized the communication skills of the Accomack school board at the board’s Tuesday night meeting after its office failed to provide parents with information on an alleged gun threat made by a student at the high school on the previous Thursday, Valentine’s Day.
In a Feb. 14 Facebook post that received 94 shares and 59 comments, Burke Landon, of Atlantic, stated all three of his children who attend Arcadia High had come home and told him the same story: “a student was escorted off school property today threatening to shoot up the school tomorrow.”
His wife called the school board office “and of course gets the run around and no one including the superintendent (Chris Holland) knows anything about it,” the post continued.
Landon said Tuesday night that he had spoken to Accomack’s District 2 supervisor, Ron Wolff, and discovered the student had actually threatened students who had bullied him. “Either way, it was going to be a school shooting,” Landon said.
According to Landon, the superintendent was not aware of the incident when Landon’s wife spoke to him Feb. 14., wanting to know if students would be safe to attend school the next day. Holland called back about an hour later and reportedly said, “I’ll think they’ll be fine.”
“Really?” Landon said.
“With social media, why is it so difficult for someone in the school system to say, ‘Hey, parents, here’s what happened today. Don’t be alarmed, we’ve got it under control’” and explain how local authorities responded, he asked.
Landon also complained that when he and his wife visit the school, they walk through the metal detector, but it’s never on. “If airport security is so important these days … isn’t the safety of our next generation also that important?”
Wolff also spoke during the public comment period. “There was absolutely no communication from this board to the general public” following the Feb. 14 incident, he said.
The incident “was resolved very quickly by the Accomack County sheriff’s department. I spoke with them this morning,” he continued. “But this board did not communicate to the general public.”
He suggested the school division could have used its automated phone system to relay the message to parents early last Friday morning that the previous day’s incident had been resolved.
“The only call that I received Friday morning was from my grandson, a student at Arcadia High School, who called home to tell us that there was only about 200 students in school that day,” Wolff said.
According to school records, there are 666 students enrolled at Arcadia High.
“They feared the school was going to be shot up,” Wolff said. “Why couldn’t the school board inform the public that an incident that we’ve seen happen across the country time and time again had been averted … ? Our children would have been safe to go to school on Friday.”
According to Wolff, school board Vice Chairman Ronnie Holden said he first heard of the incident on Feb. 15 during a phone call from a grandparent of an Arcadia High School student.
Wolff blamed Arcadia High student absences that day on a communication “breakdown” by the school board.
Holland responded, “It’s a student matter and it’s being investigated as we speak.” He called safety a “top priority.”
Later, school board member George Waldenmaier commented, “Parents should never be doubting the safety of their children while they’re in our charge, and if that happened, then there’s clearly a communication breakdown” that shouldn’t be repeated.
He recommended reviewing school safety procedures at the next school board meeting. “We want our schools to be safe, and we want our schools to be welcoming and family friendly,” but “an airport security system is incompatible with that.”