Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Parents express frustration with WJCC school board about bullying and safety issues

Warhill High School (WYDaily/File photo)
Warhill High School (WYDaily file photo)

When Dan Clark learned that a student with a loaded gun had sat next to his daughter in class, he was angry, scared and, most importantly, ready to take action.

On Friday, a student at Warhill High School was arrested after allegedly bringing a loaded handgun to school, causing parents and students alike to raise concern.

Related story: Police: This high school student brought a loaded gun to Warhill. He’s now facing felony charges

“My daughter sat next to that student every single day in that class,” Clark said. “All it would’ve taken was for him to grab a pencil or something else in his bag for it to accidentally discharge that firearm.”

Clark found himself in a state of frustration because of a lack of communication from the school, he said. He called the high school, the school board and sent emails but received barely any response.

This is an experience other parents echoed when they spoke out at the Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting Tuesday night.

“I grew up walking through metal detectors and moving to Williamsburg was like a bubble of safety and unfortunately that bubble has now ended,” said Jennifer Garcia, a parent. “Sometimes you call [the school] and you don’t get responses from anyone.”

Cox said the district strives to respond to parents’ concerns as quickly as possible, but sometimes responses can be delayed if information about an incident is still being gathered.

Clark said he doesn’t believe there are enough security measures at the school to keep those inside safe. But Elieen Cox, spokeswoman for the district, said the schools have a number of security measures in place, such as security cameras and protocols for monitoring visitors.

“It is important to note that while technology enhances our ability to provide a safe learning environment for students, human relationships also play a vital role,” Cox said.

Cox said the district plans to continue adding security measures to WJCC school buildings, especially through the redesign of the front entrance at schools to allow for better management of traffic in and out of the building.

But Clark wants more.

Since the incident Friday, Clark has started a petition to have metal detectors placed at the school but he said he doesn’t see this likely for the next school year because it’s too late for budget considerations.

But, he said, he wants to at least get the attention of the school board after feeling neglected when he reached out earlier.

During the meeting, Clark and other parents called for a change in the district in regards to communication with the community about student safety and bullying.

“We have had two tragedies in the matter of a month and we have no one do anything about it except roll it off their shoulders,” said student Michael Hart.

The second tragedy to which Hart was referring was the death of a fellow student on May 7, which he said was related to bullying.

The issue of bullying isn’t a new topic in the district, though, after the James Blair Middle School principal was demoted in February when parents expressed anger at the way bullying issues were being treated at the school.

Related story: James Blair demotes principal to address issues in the new school

Cox said bullying is already addressed through a number of measures in the school, such as in the student code of conduct and the anti-bullying program that is placed in each school.

“I think that there are obviously concerns when they don’t know what the end result of a disciplinary action is,” Cox said. “But that’s because we don’t release a student’s individual information when there are privacy matters involved.”

The system that is currently in place to prevent bullying is ever-changing though, she said, adding the district is constantly looking at what new resources are available to provide additional and improved services.

With the school year coming to an end, those in the WJCC community are hoping a fresh start in the fall will create more proactive responses from the school board and the movement toward safer learning environments in district.

“We have to say this is the reality we’re dealing with and not be afraid and we work together to get it done correctly,” said Kimberly Hundley, president of the WJCC chapter of Teachers Education Association. “We have to do some tough things because our children need us, all of us…next year I’m definitely praying for WJCC.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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