Spartan safety: students and staff wonder how secure they are


Photo courtesy of Taylor King

Although WS may look like any other high school from beyond its gates, students and teachers debate with each other about how safe it truly is from threats.

Although threats to school safety may seem distant from the Spartan high school experience, the impact of these threats to school safety still weigh in on the thoughts and actions of students, teachers, administration, and security staff, and even upper-management within FCPS.

News of school shootings seems to be common this year, with hundreds of shootings already happening with more than half of the year still to come. According to the British Broadcasting Network (BBC), over 200 mass shootings have occurred in the US thus far, and National Public Radio (NPR) stated that 74 people have been either injured or killed from school shootings in 2023.  Even as these statistics continue to pile up, students and teachers still consider these threats incredibly distant. 

“I think because I live in the community and live very close to the school, I think of this [area] as a safe community in general,” said teacher Joanne Pendry.

Despite these feelings of security, Pendry still feels a responsibility to keep her and her students safe from threats that may arise. 

“I think that every time there is an event in the news, it gives students, staff, parents, and administrators all a pause [to] wonder [about that], especially when there are anniversaries of [shooting] events,” said Pendry.

For head of security and WS graduate Brad Adams, the threats to school security that are seen and heard of all the time now are very distant from when he attended high school, save for one single bomb scare.  

“When I was in high school, yes, [there was a single bomb threat]. Luckily, [WS] has not had an issue with that since I have been [security] specialist,” said Adams.

Students expressed similar views to staff members, repeatedly mentioning that while the thought of a school shooting or other catastrophe does weigh in their mind after repeated news of such incidents, they tend not to dwell on it completely. 

“I do worry about [threats to school security] in the back of my head, especially whenever I hear about the things that have been happening closer and closer to us, but I guess there’s a part of me that never believes it will actually happen to us,” said senior Chase Butia. “Call it stupidity or hope, it just seems like such an out-there possibility.” 

Freshman Ben Harper agreed that seeing the amount of school shootings occurring nationwide, in addition to the fact that this area is densely populated, amplifies his concern over his own safety when going to school. 

“I think our school is in a very mixed area, and with that comes people who have access to weapons,” Harper said. “I also know that if we did have a shooter in the school, safety measures are in place to keep us safe. Regardless, I still worry because of the pure number of violent crimes being committed in schools across the country.” 

On the topic of how to make the school community safe for its students, Butia believes that the school must be as open-minded and friendly as possible. 

“I really think the best way to make sure schools are safe is to properly make its students feel welcome, heard, and understood by teachers and staff,” Butia said.

While Butia expressed that he was not directly affected in any way by school shootings committed in the U.S., Harper stated that they did affect his mental health negatively. 

“I have [been affected by school shootings], especially after seeing the quantity of school shootings and the government’s inability to take action. I think my mental health has taken a toll  after day in and day out hearing about these tragedies, while the government does nothing to help,” Harper said. 

While school shootings may be the most prevalent cause for concern for the safety of school, one other threat which comes to mind are the presence of sex offenders included as staff in the county. In the 2021-22 school year, a science teacher at Irving Middle School was arrested for possession of child pornography. 

“I’m not terribly scared of the possibility of sexual predators being hired at our school, [and] I trust that the hiring process is a lot more intensive to filter out people who are [dangerous],” junior Crystal Kitburi said. “The story about the Irving teacher being a predator was very shocking and I’m disappointed it even happened in the first place.”

Dr. Michelle Reid, the superintendent of FCPS, has stated she is committed to providing students a safe learning environment. While her office did not respond to a request to comment, she sent an email last month to FCPS staff of her dedication. 

“Starting this month, we will be adding an additional layer to our safety processes. Currently, FCPS runs a background check for all new hires,” Reid said. “We will now also be running all current FCPS employees (including temporary employees, hourly staff and substitutes) through the National Sex Offender Registry.”

Per the email, Reid stated that every employee’s fingerprints will be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Virginia State Police, as well as a requirement for all staff to notify the county of any criminal history. 

FCPS remains committed to providing safe schools and workplaces for all students and staff. Continually reviewing and updating safety and security measures provides a safe learning and work environment across the division,” Reid said. “Every day, families across our school system entrust their children to our care. We build that trust through the promise that the safety of students and staff remains one of our top priorities.”