Superintendent’s Letter to Families – Safety Plans for March 14

March 7, 2018

Dear Parents and Guardians:

It has come to our attention that some students are planning to participate in a National School Walkout against gun violence. The walkout is scheduled for March 14, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 lives lost at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

We are proud of the student leaders in our school division who have come to us in advance to share their interest in participating.  While we are not supporting or endorsing a particular viewpoint, we respect students’ rights to express themselves and their interest in honoring the lives that were lost.

We are working closely with schools and have put a plan in place to ensure student safety.  Each school has designated a meeting location in advance and will have a plan in place for supervising students.  In addition, due to safety concerns, participation will be limited to enrolled students and staff.  The Suffolk Police Department will be present at each school for added security during this time.

Student Expectations

  • Students participating in the walkout must gather in the designated areas only. They may not roam the building or walk to any other part of the campus during this time.
  • Students are expected to conduct themselves appropriately and to follow school rules at all times.
  • If students are disruptive, violate school rules or leave campus during this time, they will receive a consequence aligned with School Board policy.
  • Students must return to class when directed.

Please note that while we are preparing for possible student participation in the National School Walkout at the middle and high school levels, we realize some elementary students may also express an interest in participating.  If this occurs, elementary schools will be directed to allow younger students to express themselves in a more age-appropriate manner.

Please be mindful that participation in the walkout is a decision between you and your child. At no time will students be compelled to participate or discouraged from doing so.  As a school division, our top priority on this day is student safety and minimizing the disruption to the school day.

Parents, please take a moment to discuss this with your child in advance and to reinforce school expectations at home. Thank you for your continued support and partnership.


Deran R. Whitney, Ed.D.

Superintendent’s Message about School Safety

February 20, 2018

Dear Parents, Students, Staff and Suffolk Community,

While our sympathies are with those directly affected by last week’s school shooting in Florida, we know our community is thinking about Suffolk schools. We remain committed to provide a safe learning environment for all of our staff and students. I’m offering the following information because you may have questions.

  • PLANS AND PRACTICE: Every Suffolk school has a crisis management plan approved by the Virginia Department of Education. All students, staff and administrators regularly participate in safety and lockdown drills to test their preparedness and understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a crisis.
  • BUILDING SECURITY: At this point, most schools have locked access control systems at the front doors.  We will be accelerating the installation of similar security systems at the remaining schools. In addition, we are hiring additional safety personnel to bolster building security and visitor authorization. We also use a combination of mobile metal detectors and drug screening dogs at all schools to monitor what is being brought into schools. 
  • PARTNERSHIP: Suffolk Public Schools has a strong working relationship with the Suffolk Police Department. This partnership allows school administrators and police to work together quickly and efficiently on threat assessments, investigations, and any other safety concerns. 
  • COMMUNICATION: We commend students and families for coming forward whenever situations make them uncomfortable. We take every piece of information and every cyber threat seriously. Parents, be aware of your children’s social media accounts and what they are posting and reposting. Please also continue to encourage your children to report anything they see, hear or sense that could affect student, staff or school safety. 
  • MENTAL WELLNESS: Student mental well-being remains a focus. Our students are managing more pressures, anxiety, and depression than ever. Because some students often make poor choices, our students need adults to help them. We are hosting three community presentations related to suicide prevention. Please see our website for the details. The first presentation is Wednesday, Feb. 21 at King’s Fork High School at 6 p.m.

These are just some of the measures we have in place to promote safety and security as our top priority. We are relying on you as partners in this process to keep our students and staff safe.

Sincerely,Deran R. Whitney, Ed.D., Superintendent

Hampton Roads Superintendents Speak Out on Social Media Threats

February 21, 2018

Dear Hampton Roads Families:

Following last week’s school shooting in Florida, we all have experienced a wide range of emotions from shock and sorrow to anger that something like this could happen. Schools are a place where children deserve to learn free from fear.

The responsibility of keeping our schools safe belongs to everyone. In these times of heightened awareness, schools, parents, staff and the community at-large must remain ever vigilant in our efforts.

As you know, we have many security measures in place in our schools across Hampton Roads. In addition, as superintendents of the region, we are joining together with local police agencies to address disturbing social media posts or comments made that could be perceived as a threat. Any threat made against any one of our schools – even those made “as a joke” – will have serious repercussions, including potential criminal charges and a possible recommendation for expulsion from school.

We are reinforcing this message with students and we need your help at home. We all have a responsibility to treat information regarding school safety with caution; the oversharing of misinformation in most cases will create problems, not prevent them. We ask that any social media or other threat be reported directly to law enforcement and school officials, rather than shared through social media channels. Quite simply, if you hear or see something, say something. We also encourage parents and caregivers to monitor students’ online activity and to employ these strategies:

  • Know what websites and social media sites your child is using.
  • Look at what they are posting and who they are following.
  • Stress that making a threat is not to be taken lightly and that there are severe consequences.
  • Talk with your child about recent local and national incidents. Explain that feelings such as sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear can be normal responses to tragedies for children and adults.
  • Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if your child needs assistance dealing with anxiety or feeling safe.
  • Contact your child’s school and law enforcement if you believe your child is capable of making a threat and following through.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your children and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they become aware of a threat or rumor of violence.

Working together at school and at home, we can and will make a difference for our children and our community. You place your trust in us each and every day. As superintendents, we have no greater responsibility than to educate our children in a safe environment where they can learn and grow, without carrying the weight of fear and anxiety on their shoulders.

Thank you in advance for partnering with us in this important work and for your assistance in keeping our children and communities safe.


Dr. Deran Whitney, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Jennifer Parish, Poquoson City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Elie Bracy, III, Portsmouth Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Olwen Herron, Williamsburg-James City County Schools Superintendent

Dr. James Roberts, Chesapeake Public Schools Superintendent

Ms. Tamara Sterling, Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent

Dr. Jeffery Smith, Hampton City Schools Superintendent

Mr. Brian Nichols, Newport News Public Schools Acting Superintendent

Dr. Melinda J. Boone, Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent