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Shenandoah County: Public forums to focus on school safety

By Kim Walter

Shenandoah County Public Schools is partnering with the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office to hold three public forums focusing on safety in schools in this month.

Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said the idea to hold the forums came shortly after an incident took place in the county.

Law enforcement officials arrested Christopher Gerrit Johnson on Dec. 19 and charged him with disorderly conduct after they were called to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg to investigate a man with a 2x4 board labeled "high powered rifle."

The arrest took place just days after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and educators were killed.

"I think people were concerned, and rightfully so," Rowland said Wednesday. "We're trying to be proactive and get busy working toward a solution as quickly as possible."

On Jan. 8, 15 and 22, meetings will be held at each of the campus' middle schools. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on those days, staff members from the campus will have their own forum, followed by a meeting for parents and community members at 7 p.m. Rowland, along with Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, will host the forums.

"Our idea is to talk with people about what we know, and what we think are some potential solutions to the safety issue," Rowland said. "We also want to hear from the public and find out what is important to them."

Rowland added that the school system wants what all the parents and staff in the division want: for each child to be safe.

Over the past few years, the school system's capital improvement plan has included modifications and increased security at the front entrance of the schools. Those plans have yet to be realized, though, due to budget cuts.

"We certainly have some ideas, but it's not as easy as just wanting something to happen," Rowland said. "At some of the schools we've got 40 or 50 doors, and all of them but the front door is locked ... but locking them doesn't necessarily guarantee safety."

As the school division enters into budget planning season, Rowland said he believes there will be some grant funding available to intensify security.

Rowland said he hopes the forums will allow some of those opportunities to be discussed.

"We were just a bit too close to the situation in Connecticut, and it make people even more interested and concerned," Rowland said. "We just want people to understand that we hear what they're saying, and there is no way we're going to disregard this. We are absolutely taking is seriously."

During the meetings with staff, Rowland said he hopes even more suggestions will be made, as the employees are in the buildings every day.

"We want staff to feel comfortable speaking up about their concerns as well," he said. "We just need to keep moving forward and come up with some viable solutions."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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