City forum discusses school safety, parent concerns and how to increase brain power

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While first responders assured the community of Fredericksburg they were doing everything they could to protect students from today’s threats – ranging from the possibility of an active shooter to a false report of a bomb in the school – another speaker encouraged the audience to laugh as good medicine, both to live longer and to increase brain power.

And as parent comments illustrate, the first “Family Academy” presented by the City of Fredericksburg Public Schools on Saturday at James Monroe High School couldn’t have been more timely. For four consecutive days in the past two weeks, James Monroe has been evacuated after someone made a threat that turned out to be false.

The FBI calls the action “swatting” because it is a 911 call that draws a massive response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team. The hoax has been around since at least 2008, according to the FBI’s website, but it was extremely popular this month.

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In a single day, Monday, Sept. 19, at least 11 school systems in Virginia reported closures by shooters or bombs, including Fredericksburg, Charlottesville and Culpeper and Fauquier counties, Arlington and Loudoun.

Raygan DeCarlo, a mother of six, asked those gathered on Saturday for some answers.

“I hear from children that there is a bomb threat, that a bomb, that there was smoke. I don’t know what’s true because the school tells us nothing, nothing,” she said during a safety forum Q&A. “We have no idea from the school or the police why the school is being evacuated.”

Her voice cracked with both nervousness and concern as she continued, “You tell us there are police dogs in our schools. Parents have a right to know why, don’t they?

His emotional appeals, which included a desire to help in any way possible, illustrated some of the persistent issues facing schools. It’s unclear whether swatting is another fallout from COVID-19, said Dr. Matt Eberhardt, assistant superintendent of Fredericksburg schools.

“I know we’re seeing more emotional needs than we’ve ever seen before,” he told about 45 people gathered in the school auditorium.

A positive aspect of the pandemic has been increased community interest in connecting with schools and that’s why Fredericksburg has planned its first of several Family Academy events, Superintendent Marci Catlett said.

Saturday’s program included Marcia Tate, a renowned educational consultant, author, and speaker who encouraged viewers to get up, introduce themselves, and talk with someone – preferably someone they didn’t know – about issues they didn’t know. she had asked them.

And have a great time doing it. She held herself up as an example of the beneficial power of laughter, which research has shown boosts the immune system by increasing the production of antibodies that prevent infection.

“I don’t just teach this, I practice this,” she said, walking animatedly down the aisles, announcing to the public that she will turn 71 next week. She said it was the only way she worked as an educator and consultant for 49 years because she didn’t start when she was 6.

However, it was then that she decided to become a teacher. She lined up all her dolls and taught them for hours.

“I didn’t have a single behavior problem,” she said.

Tate also acknowledged that brains are wired differently today than 40 years ago due to changing times, from different family structures to greater exposure to violence. She said children come to school angry because no one in their lives talks to them, reads to them or sings to them at an early age and prepares their brains for learning.

“If you don’t get anything else from this seminar, please go home and rock, hold and love these babies,” Tate said.

More information about his message, which emphasizes preparing children to succeed in school and in life, is available on his website, drmarciatate.com.

Ahead of Tate’s session, representatives from the Fredericksburg Police, Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, and schools presented detailed information on efforts to avert “the pretty horrific events in Texas that concern us all.” , Eberhardt said.

In May, a teenager entered a primary school in Uvalde, killed 19 students and two teachers and injured 17 others. Fredericksburg officials had active firing plans in place before this event, officials said, but met in earnest in recent months to update and upgrade them.

Thus, each employee of the school has received training in crisis and emergency management. All plans have been approved by law enforcement and emergency services, Eberhardt said.

“If we look at some of the things in Texas and elsewhere, I want to assure everyone that law enforcement has unrestricted access to our buildings,” he continued. “We have made badges available to them, we have put keys in the hands of officers and vehicles so there should never be a problem that someone cannot enter one of our buildings .”

The school system has used state grants to create digital maps of schools that show emergency exits, alarms, cameras and fire extinguishers accessible by the 911 center. If an emergency call is made from a school, “he’s not just going to say the phone call is from Hugh Mercer, he’s actually going to say it’s from Hugh Mercer, room 118,” Eberhardt said.

Fredericksburg plans to use another state grant to purchase radios that connect the school system to the police department, he said.

Another lesson learned from Uvalde is the need for police to be able to access locked doors at schools and Police Chief Brian Layton said his department is buying breach kits – with items like axes, tools cutters and levers – for each school. Some department vehicles currently have the kits, but for safety reasons, Layton wants them in every school.

Sheriff Captain Scott Foster said he hoped those gathered would take one message from the meeting, that “we are all here for the same mission”, to support schools and the community.

During questions from the audience, parents expressed concerns that were the exact opposite of the issues raised more than two years ago when protesters across the country suggested defunding the police or withdrawing all school resource officers. Local parents wanted to know how many more Fredericksburg School Resource Officers could put in place and whether items, such as metal detectors, could be used at school entrances.

DeCarlo and another mother, Melissa Battiste, said after the session that while they appreciated the concerted efforts of first responders, they were practically begging them to keep parents informed as much as possible. They described the alarm they felt recently when their children called them – before the school system sent out alerts – to say that James Monroe had been evacuated and that students had been asked to come out and leave their phones, purses or backpacks, if necessary.

“It’s very scary,” DeCarlo said.

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