The Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office reports there has been a slight increase in the number of reported assaults over the last few years in the county's schools, though there have been more assaults on teachers this school year than in previous years.
Maj. Scott Proctor of the 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 have involved accusations of student against student, student against teacher, and, in one case, administrator/school resource officer against student.
“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 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.
What is known is that reported assaults on teachers have increased. There were seven so far for 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
Violence in the schools started early in the 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 charge of assault and battery after separate incidents involving the same 5-year-old student.
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 is received for the remainder of the school year, the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office would receive 54 total reports of assaults for the entire school year. That would follow a trend seen in the last few years of a slight increase in reported school assaults.
There were 48 assaults reported 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.
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 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,” Johnston stated.
Johnston also said he is seeing more cases of students whose parents are either disengaged from their children, causing students to bring situations outside school 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.