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Central Virginia school districts up security following digital threats

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Posted at 8:11 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 20:11:46-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Several school divisions in Central Virginia had an increased presence of law enforcement at some of its schools Friday as a result of online threats, but none of them were deemed to be credible.

The majority, including Chesterfield, Richmond, Henrico, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights, said they had received word of social media posts promoting a "riot" during third period on Friday. The flyer contained in the post did not mention any specific school and each district said it determined there was no credible threat, but asked for an increased law enforcement presence out of an abundance of caution.

"Thought that that was a good idea and, so, we just moved on from there. We just like to keep our parents informed when something like this going on after the recent shooting, we know everybody sometimes gets a little bit more on edge. So, we just want them to know that we're hearing it, too," said Colonial Heights Public Schools Superintendent Bill Sroufe, with the "recent shooting" referring to the Nov. 30 shooting at a Michigan high school that left four dead.

"This week we learned about an Instagram post encouraging a student disruption on Friday. We are working closely with law enforcement to investigate this matter. My expectation — every school day — is for students to focus on instruction, and disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. Students can be arrested and suspended or expelled from school for incidents that cause disruptions to the school day, and parents can be held financially responsible for damage done to school property. We are nearing winter break and the beginning of a new year, and I want to ensure we close out 2021 in a positive place for students and staff. I know this is important to you as well.. I encourage you to talk with your child about my expectations. Thank you for your continued support and partnership. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me," read a message that a Chesterfield County Public Schools spokesperson said was being shared by its principals.

However, one Hopewell parent told CBS 6 they took issue with the response from her children's division and opted to keep her kids home on Friday.

"If they were going to bring in all those resources with all the police and doing all the extra things that they shouldn't even really need to do last minute, then I feel like they should have called it off or gone virtual," said Jacquelyn White who has a student in middle school and pre-K. She added the school should have alerted parents earlier than they did, as she was not notified until around 8 p.m. Thursday night, and with more than just the email she got "Why did they just tell us at eight o'clock at night, especially when I started doing research and saw that this had been happening kind of all week around Central Virginia."

An official for Hopewell City Public Schools said they sent out their message via phone, email and text and added "parents do have the ability to select their communication preferences, and messages are sent accordingly. Parents can update their preferences to include any of the methods, including receiving phone calls."

As to their decision to keep the school open, but with an increased police presence, the official said the school "works in collaboration with local police and sheriff offices to follow protocols and processes that include threat assessment. In this particular case, both they and Virginia State police were able to establish that this was not a credible threat and responded appropriately."

Meanwhile, the Hanover County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) said investigated a different threat and had an increased presence at Bell Creek Middle School and Atlee High School as a result.

A spokesperson for the office said based on their investigation, a rumor started among some students playing video games and it spread on social media after that.

"It was a conversation that started about a school shooting and then it turned into there was going to be a school shooting," said HCSO Public Information Officer Lt. James Cooper. "And again, we have interviewed every single party that was involved at both schools and have determined those rumors to be just that."

Cooper said the investigation was ongoing and could not say if anyone could face charges as a result of the rumors.