Bomb threat at FCHS sparks conversation on school violence

By Heather Michon

A bomb threat resulted in an early dismissal at Fluvanna County High School on Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 27), but it was what happened during the evacuation that raised concerns among some in the community.

The threat to bomb the school was posted to social media and brought to the attention of school authorities late in the day on Wednesday. 

Superintendent Peter Gretz altered parents at 3:24 p.m. that a Snapchat video warned of “a potential bomb threat” set for 4 p.m. “Accordingly, we are releasing and evacuating FCHS immediately.” They also canceled all afternoon and evening events and practices.

Gretz said the threat was very general and may very well not have originated locally. “It could have been a kid in Kansas,” he said. Threats of this type circulate around social media on a regular basis. 

However, because the threat noted a specific time, and it was already close to the end of the school day, they made the decision to evacuate the building. Gretz said it had taken a matter of minutes to get law enforcement, fire and rescue services, and buses in place. With two buses not available until after 4 pm, a staging area was set up at Pleasant Grove for students to wait.

While the evacuation went very smoothly, “it probably felt chaotic to some people,” he said. Since they were not aware of why they were being evacuated, it undoubtedly caused anxiety for some students.

As they were being led to their buses, an altercation broke out between a couple of students.  “The deputies that were on the scene, including the Student Resource Officers, were able to take control of the situation and detained three students,” said FCSO Lt. Aaron Hurd.

None of the students reported injuries and were released to their parents “pending any school or legal actions,” said Hurd. There were no other fights reported during the evacuation.

“I applaud our superintendent, Dr. Gretz, and the administration at the high school for acting quickly to keep our students and staff safe,” said School Board Chair James Kelley, who is currently running for a new term on the board for Palmyra. “With less than ten minutes to organize and implement an evacuation plan, they were able to ensure that all students and staff were out of the being before the 4 p.m. deadline. We owe our leadership and our sheriff’s department a debt of gratitude for their quick response.”   

The sheriff’s office does not believe the bomb threat was connected to the altercation between students. An investigation of the bomb threat is ongoing.

As stories about the fight circulated around social media, many FCHS parents voiced their concerns about school safety and what some see as insufficient punishments for infractions like fighting and making threats. 

FCPS sent out two-page document late last week outlining the disciplinary actions for physical altercations, fights, and filming fights and other inappropriate smartphone uses. Gretz said staff had been working on the outline prior to the bomb threat.

Under the current policies, a physical assault can result in 3-5 days of out-of-school suspension on a first offense and 5-10 days for a second offense. Students also have to meet with counselors for a “reentry meeting.” Fighting can result in a 5-10 suspension on the first offense. The second offense results in a 10-day suspension with a recommendation for a disciplinary hearing that can result in a longer suspension or expulsion.

Candidates for Fork Union’s open School Board seat both commended FCSO deputies and  SROs for managing the situation – but both also raised concerns about how the schools handle student discipline.

Gary Davis said punishment for making threats against the schools should result in immediate expulsion. “It’s crucial to send a strong message that even hoax threats will have the same consequences as real ones. The county’s resources spent on investigating these incidents are significant, but more importantly, they can harm the mental health of some students who are unsettled and traumatized by such events.” 

“Community service (in the Army, we called it “extra duty”) for 5 to 10 days should be added to some disciplinary actions,” Davis added. “This would consist of supervised community service after school with the maintenance and/or janitorial staff to assist with after-school cleaning and maintenance duties.” 

“What is happening at that high school must stop,” said Danny Reed in a video posted Wednesday night. “The policies aren’t working. The discipline is not effective. The consequences, quite frankly, are not scary enough,” he said. 

“Good actions lead to good consequences. Negative actions – very crazy actions like threatening a school and putting lives in jeopardy–see ya. Gone. Zero tolerance. Expelled,” he said.

Wednesday’s bomb threat was the second incident in recent weeks where an online threat led to a change in the school schedule. On Sept. 18, a threat caused a two-hour delay. Dr. Gretz later posted that subjects had been taken into custody and potential charges were pending.

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