The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office is seeing an increase in the number of reported assaults on school property so far this school year, as well as more assaults on teachers than in previous years.
Maj. Scott Proctor, of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, said department records show there were 27 reports of assaults at the county’s 10 public schools in the first half of this school year. Those reports are student against student, student against teacher, and administrator/school resource officer against student incidents.
“Keep in mind, a reported assault does not mean an assault took place,” Proctor said.
The department was not able to provide how many were actual assaults because of the way juvenile incidents are handled.
“I think we would be safe to say, in the majority of reported incidents, there was probable cause to contact juvenile intake. Juvenile intake then decides the level of action taken, such as referral, diversion, petitions, etc.,” Proctor said.
A petition is a request that a child be considered delinquent for an action he or she committed.
What is known is that the number of reported assaults on teachers has increased. There have been seven in the first half of the 2018-2019 school year, up from the two reported in the 2017-2018 school year. There were no teachers reported assaulted in the 2016-2017 school year, Proctor said.
Shenandoah County Public Schools has 6,030 students enrolled, down from 6,060 the last school year.
Violence in the schools started early in this school year with two separate brawls at Strasburg High School within a day of each other. In total, six students were charged in those fights.
Another incident occurred when the principal of Ashby Lee Elementary School and a former Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office deputy were charged in October with a misdemeanor assault and battery after separate incidents involving the same 5-year-old student. It was initially reported to the Sheriff’s Office before being transferred to the Virginia State Police.
Principal Stephen Povlish III has been placed on leave without pay and former deputy Tabatha R. Baker-Whitacre, who was then a school resource officer, was fired after the allegations surfaced. The court cases for both continue to make their way through the Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court
If the same level of calls are received for the remainder of this school year, the Sheriff’s Office could receive 54 total reports of assaults for the entire school year. That would follow a trend seen in the last few years of an increase in reported school assaults.
It would be more than the 48 total reported assaults in the 2017-2018 school year, and more than the 33 in the 2016-2017 school year.
There were 43 reported assaults in the 2015-2016 school year as well as 43 reported assaults for the 2014 -2015 school year.
Shenandoah County Public Schools in 2016 had 6,007 students enrolled. The division had 6,072 students enrolled in 2015.
Some years see a higher number of incidents in school; the number fluctuates as with any type of reported crimes or offenses, like vandalism, larceny, and others, that may occur outside of the schools, Proctor said.
School administrators say their schools are safe and that they are working on preventing violence.
Superintendent Mark Johnston said the states collect such data and have a measure for what they consider safe schools.
“All of our schools achieve that distinction every year and have never failed to do so. So indeed, our schools are safe,” Johnston stated via email.
“I would like to assure our parents and the community that we will take swift action as necessary to ensure our schools remain safe.”
The district has implemented some initiatives over the past couple of years to address threatening behaviors, including expanded mental health services and training in schools on social-emotional learning, which focuses on de-escalating tensions among students when they begin to exhibit behaviors that stem from physical and sexual abuse, drug use in families, and poverty, according to Johnston.
He stated what the division experiences is comparable to other divisions.
“Everyone is finding the need to address these issues,” he noted.
Johnston also said he is seeing more cases of students whose parents are disengaged from their children, causing students to bring troubles at home into school. He sees more parents who cannot recognize that the behavior of their child is a problem, particularly when students fail to take direction from both administrators and school resource officers, he stated.