Teens charged in separate threats on FCHS

Parents meet with school officials about student safety

By Heather Michon

Two teens have been charged in two separate threats of violence against Fluvanna County High School according to a sheriff’s office press release.

Following investigations into the Sept. 18 threat that caused a two-hour delay and the Sept. 27 threat that caused an evacuation, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old have each been charged with one count of threats to bomb a place of assembly. Given that both are juveniles, FCSO is withholding their names and details of the cases, and added that the two investigations “are still ongoing.”

Almost two dozen parents assembled at FCHS on Wednesday night (Oct. 4) for a meeting with school officials. The Principal Advisory Committee was planned before the recent spate of threats to cover a wide range of topics regarding the high school, but much of the 90-minute session ended up focusing on what the school was doing to address security threats, bullying, and fighting among students.

It was also an opportunity for administrators to share what they feel is a disconnect between the image of FCHS that circulates on social media and their daily reality.

FCHS Principal Margo Bruce said there have been a total of five fights on campus since the start of the school year. She said that was a lower number than the same period the previous year.

Since fighting among students is often a symptom of other issues, “we’re trying to put things in place so children have the resources they need,” said Bruce. 

Among other initiatives, FCPS is building a more robust mental health program, working to build partnerships with other social service agencies, and working on programs that help children build strong support networks.   

Several parents raised concerns that punishments were not strong enough. Under state law, even serious infractions max out at 10 days of suspension.

For many students “there’s nothing redemptive about suspensions,” said Superintendent Peter Gretz. “It doesn’t address the problem.” 

He explained that schools have tools beyond suspension or expulsion to address those children who have shown they can’t be in a traditional school setting, including placement in alternative or distance learning programs.

Social media is an obvious source of frustration for administrators. Over the past few years, videos of fights at FCHS have been circulating on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. This has led to a perception by some in the community that FCHS is a place where chaos reigns.

“It seems like the children are running the school,” said one parent.

“They’re not,” Bruce replied bluntly.

Gretz said “if this school was anything like what some of Facebook describes it to be,” he would never bring anyone there. Instead, he had hosted statewide officials and supervisors for a divisional meeting and had some ask him if the school was always so calm.

Jennifer Valentine, Director of Special Education, recalled an incident where a teacher alerted staff that two students were getting worked up during class and were clearly poised to fight. Staff moved in to intercept them at the end of class and broke up the fight in a matter of seconds – but not before groups of students in the hallway pulled out their smartphones. 

She witnessed the incident, saying it was not even 30 seconds long. But filmed from multiple angles and recycled endlessly online, “it made it like it was this huge, huge fight.”  

Valentine encouraged parents to model good online behavior and talk to their kids about filming and posting about fellow students online. She also asked for parents to report it to staff when they saw this type of material on social media so the school could address it.

Overall, administrators stressed that most FCPH students seem to be doing fine. 

“Your kids are good kids,” said Valentine.

Gretz said the fight during the evacuation was “unbelievably unfortunate,” but the focus on those two students obscured the fact that “the other 1,298 of them were doing exactly what they were supposed to do. And they’re not getting any credit for it.”

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