FCPS to hold community meeting about recent unfounded school threats

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FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid and Chief Safety and Security Officer Tom Vaccarello spoke at a May 8 community conversation at South Lakes High School in Reston.

Thanks to recent activism by local residents, Fairfax County Public Schools will be holding a community meeting Dec. 11 related to recent incidents in which false reports of violence were made at or toward a local school.

According to a statement from the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD), on Oct. 17, a student falsely summoned police and stated there was an active shooter inside Carl Sandburg Middle School on Fort Hunt Road. The school was placed on lockdown while police units cleared the building. It was determined the call was a hoax, and the juvenile responsible was identified. School Resource Officers obtained a juvenile petition for false summons of police, said the FCPD spokesperson.

Just hours after the incident, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck — whose office had been in communication with Mount Vernon Police District Commander Capt. Marc Mitchell — emailed community members about the morning incident. Assuring them it was over, Storck said he and Fairfax County School Board Member Karen Corbett Sanders were in close contact with public safety leaders to keep local children safe. He urged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of making prank calls about schools and other public infrastructure.

“This is a crime and subject to prosecution,” wrote Storck.

In July 2023, a new law took effect in Virginia that provides stronger penalties for calling in fake reports to law enforcement that generate an emergency response — an act known as swatting.

For many students, parents and staff at Sandburg, the Oct. 16 incident was traumatic and had lasting effects. One parent of a middle schooler there recounted the incident in a local online forum, imploring fellow community members to actively communicate with younger family members and neighbors — to listen to their needs and put them in touch with professionals or other resources that could potentially help them. She also encouraged area residents to contact the office of FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid and other local elected officials about holding a community meeting about the matter.

Within a few weeks of the incident, another swatting incident involving Sandburg took place, the parent told On the MoVe.

At an FCPS School Board meeting on Oct. 26, Corbett Sanders brought up the Oct. 16 incident and asked Reid how the school system handles communications with staff members and families once the dust has settled.

“I know we’re very good at broadcast communications — when something’s going on, we can get messages out,” said Corbett Sanders. “Where is our feedback loop? Not only for our parents and students, of checking in … but also for our teachers — because our teachers and staff in that building were traumatized.”

In her response, Reid acknowledged that coming back after the fact to check in with employees and families wasn’t necessarily a strength of the school system. “I’ll make a note of that — to be more intentional about that,” she said.

In late November, following the syncing of schedules among county leaders, FCPS announced it would hold a community meeting at Sandburg Middle School, 8428 Fort Hunt Road on Monday, Dec. 11 from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Besides discussing the recent incidents, FCPS officials hope to have a dialogue with families, students and employees about school safety and how all stakeholders can best support each other. 

FCPS Superintendent Reid and Chief Safety and Security Officer Tom Vaccarello, School Board Members Corbett Sanders and Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Supervisor Storck and other elected officials plan to be in attendance. 

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