Superintendent's Message On Safety

Dear Washington County School Community:

In the continued wake of the most recent school shooting in Florida, we have heavy hearts full of sympathies, sorrowfulness, and even, fury. Like most of you, our attempts to fathom the mindless and senseless loss of innocent lives is confounding at best.  Our schools and school communities should be havens of safety void of unnecessary distress, fear and anxiety. Conversely, our schools should be places of remarkable student learning and engaging leadership development opportunities for all.  That remains our expectation.

As a community at-large, we need everyone to work together to ensure our schools are safe.  It will be the collective and collaborative efforts of all that bring about optimal safe learning environments. In today’s world, it is paramount that we serve alongside and stay connected.

In our schools, we serve in loco parentis with our primary priority being to ensure that your students are safe while they are in our care. In that vein, we continue to discuss, plan and implement measures to help keep all members of the school community safe and secure.  Accordingly, we continue to meet with our extraordinary law enforcement leaders, safety personnel and community leaders in our county and towns to establish a school safety task force along with our existing emergency response/crisis management, safety, threat assessment teams.  Specifically, we met with Sheriff Newman on Thursday, March 1 to form a School Safety Task Force.  In the very near future we will meet to fully implement additional action plans and conduct ongoing and regular meetings.  Moreover, we are reviewing our emergency preparedness policies, procedures, training, and plans to make further recommendations to School Board leaders in the coming weeks as to even more steadfast safety and security measures to be taken in our school communities.

While no one has the answer, please know that we continue to search for ways/answers to protect our school families, and to secure and ultimately foster the safest and most engaging learning environment possible in all our schools.

Likewise, we continue to work with local law enforcement officials to address any unsettling rumors and leads to include social media posts or any other comments that may be perceived as a threat. Please help school communities by quite simply following this general rule:  If you see/hear something, say something.  More specifically, we ask that you either contact law enforcement and/or school officials with any rumors or potential information prior to posting on social media. As Chief Sullivan, Abingdon PD, has indicated in the most recent rumor that when posting information of this nature on social media, you inadvertently create panic and cause for concern before knowing the facts.

We also encourage parents and caregivers to monitor students’ online and phone/texting activity and ask you to consider the following:

  • Know what websites and social media sites your child is using. Look at what they are posting and who they are following.
  • Stress that making a threat is not to be taken lightly and that there are serious consequences to include probable criminal charges along with school disciplinary measures.
  • Talk with your child about recent local and national incidents. Explain that feelings such as sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear can be normal responses to tragedies for children and adults.
  • Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if your child needs assistance dealing with anxiety or feeling safe.
  • Contact your child’s school and law enforcement if you believe your child is capable of making a threat and following through. Again, before posting anything on social media regarding rumors, please contact school and law enforcement officials.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your children and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they become aware of a threat or rumor of violence.

Working together at school and at home, we will make a difference for our children and our school community-at large. We do not take it for granted that you place your trust in us each and every day. As school colleagues, we have no greater responsibility than to provide a safe environment where our children can learn and grow without excessive and even avertible fear and anxiety.

Warm Regards,
Dr. Brian C. Ratliff, Superintendent