BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) will remain closed for the rest of the week, following what authorities are calling “several threats of violence” in recent days.
Parents said they were alerted Tuesday night that there would be no in-person instruction on Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, school administrators announced that virtual learning would continue through Friday, with students returning for in-person instruction on Monday, Dec. 13.
“It’s a challenging decision faced from the School Board and the administration,” Chris Hucks, whose daughter is a senior at Buckingham County High School, told 8News. “It’s always in the back of your mind as, you know, stay abreast of what happens in the rest of the country and [you] always don’t want to admit that anything ever happens in a small county like this.”
Hucks said that his daughter received a message from a friends on Tuesday, alerting her to a threat toward the school that was circulating on social media. A screenshot of the threat shared with 8News mentioned gun violence.
“Certainly, uneasy and very apprehensive about my daughter, as well as other children and students in this county, going to school,” Hucks said.
This came after multiple days of incidents in Buckingham County Public Schools.
According to a release from the Buckingham County Sheriff’s Office, on Friday, Dec. 3, information was received by the School Resource Officer (SRO) that a student was going to bring a firearm to school. Both the SRO and school officials investigated the matter, and found no immediate threat.
On Monday, Dec. 6, information was received that two students had exchanged a firearm in the boys’ bathroom. Authorities said that the SRO and school officials investigated immediately and recovered a CO2 pellet pistol, which is a type of BB gun, in a student’s backpack. As a result, two 10th graders were suspended from school, with one receiving a criminal charge. According to a release, that juvenile awaits a future court hearing in Buckingham County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
On Tuesday, Dec. 7, information was received about a circulating group text message threatening violence at the end-of-day dismissal, according to the Buckingham County Sheriff’s Office. The SRO and school officials reportedly increased security measures to assure the safety of all students. Later that evening, another threat of violence circulated on social media. Based on this new threat, school officials made the decision to close schools to in-person learning and opt for virtual instruction on Wednesday.
“I seen it on social media that there were gun threats,” Stephan Banks, a former Buckingham County Public Schools student, told 8News. “I feel terrible because the kids, they go through a whole lot. So I think it’s an underlying issue where we have to really check and see what’s wrong with our kids and what they’re going through.”
According to a release, Virginia State Police (VSP), through the Virginia Fusion Center, identified the out-of-state source of a social media threat associated with Buckingham County Public Schools. The same threat has reportedly circulated on social media in other states, as well. Although the threat has been deemed not credible, authorities said that its source is not being identified at this time, due to the ongoing, multi-agency criminal investigation.
Interim superintendent Dr. John Keeler said during Wednesday’s School Board meeting that the threat originated in Texas, and its a so-called copycat threat that has been used in several other parts of the country.
“We’ve had a week of unfortunate things happen, and I’m not going to make excuses for it,” Keeler said. “We’ve had a couple fights. We had a BB gun brought to school, which scared us because BB guns are not toys like when we were coming up; BB guns are made to look like a weapon now. So that wasn’t a little thing. And then, top it off, we got kids reporting that some were going to come in and shoot the building up. That’s where it hit the fan, for me.”
Keeler said that school administrators decided to remain virtual for instruction for the rest of the week to give district officials time to review their safety policies and procedures.
Among the changes discussed at the School Board meeting was the use of two metal detectors in the school buildings, which were given to the division by the county several years ago. Keeler said the metal detectors have not been used. However, he also said that there will be a training on Thursday for school officials to become familiar with the metal detectors, as their implementation is considered.
Moreover, Keeler said he will be mandating the presence of teachers in the hallways of the division’s schools in between classes, as a deterrent to problematic behavior. He said he is also looking into alternative learning options for students who would otherwise be suspended and sent home.
“When they make a mistake and they have to leave for 10 days, I’d rather have them in the alternative center, where they can keep up with their studies and that I can council them a little bit, rather than go home for 10 days and get behind and I don’t know what they’re doing,” Keeler said.
As for Banks, he said this is an opportunity for the community to reach out to one another to find a better way to address any issues that may arise.
“I think it’s coping mechanisms. The children, they may be going through something at home, and they just don’t know how to express what they’re going through. So they turn to the violence, instead of positive mechanisms,” Banks said. “Administration, y’all can reach out to the parents, reach out to the children. Children, reach out to those in authority, and we can help one another come together and be Buckingham County again.”
Hucks said that he feels comfortable with his daughter returning for in-person instruction on Monday, but that there needs to be additional measures in place to protect students and staff.
“I feel that the resources are here, as far as the police and sheriff’s department, are doing the appropriate things by taking all the threats seriously,” he said. “I would like for my daughter and the rest of the students in the schools to be provided education and, just like a fire drill, this is, unfortunately, becoming a part of school, everyday life, and it needs to have appropriate training and procedures on what and how they should do, should this ever reach this small community.”
Anyone with information concerning these threats is urged to contact school officials or the School Resource Officer.
“As this criminal investigation continues, the prompt actions by school officials and the SRO have maintained a high level of security for all our students,” Buckingham County Sheriff William G. Kidd, Jr. said. “We are committed to providing a safe learning environment and intend to bring those responsible for these threats to justice.”