Safety and Mental Health in the Wake of Tragedy

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
January 09, 2023

Hello FCPS Families and Staff,

The news of another school shooting in Virginia is unsettling, even more so knowing the suspect is a six year-old child. Our wishes for a full recovery are with Abby Zwerner, the first grade teacher who was injured. Our thoughts are with the entire Richneck Elementary School community as they grapple with this senseless tragedy. Sadly, gun violence continues to impact our nation’s schools.

For our employees, if you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed and need support, please consider reaching out to FCPS’ Employee Assistance Program. More information is available on the Employee HubLet’s remember to check in on one another. 

For parents and guardians, it can be difficult to find the right words to reassure your child and help them express how they are feeling. This handout titled, Talking to Children About Violence (translated in multiple languages) has helpful guidance.

As a reminder, Virginia law requires gun owners to store loaded firearms where a child is unlikely to gain access. An estimated 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in households with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. A recent study found that about one in three gun owners store their weapons loaded and unlocked. A Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center study of targeted school violence incidents from 2008 to 2017, found that 76 percent of the firearms used in gun violence incidents at schools were obtained from the home of a parent/guardian or close relative. The FCPS website has more information on our gun safety and storage resources page

As a school division, we work every day to do all that we can to keep our students and staff safe. Our administrative teams meet with the FCPS Office of Safety and Security (OSS) and our School Resource Officers (SRO) regularly to review our procedures and to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to keep our students and staff safe while they are in our schools. FCPS also deploys a centralized threat assessment oversight committee that is composed of multijurisdictional (FCPD) and interdisciplinary team members that in addition to conducting case reviews, addresses the threat assessment related topics such as safety, security, mental health, and human resources. During its regular monthly meeting today, the committee discussed the Newport News case as it relates to our processes here in FCPS.

Our security operations center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we work with county, state, and federal health, safety, and emergency personnel leaders to ensure coordinated responses to potential threats. We are grounded by a centralized crisis management plan, and also drill for emergency situations and then review and revise plans as needed. All FCPS schools deploy a comprehensive threat assessment process and team that reviews incidents in an effort to mitigate any threat through final resolution. FCPS provides parents and students information about the threat assessment process which includes training modules and other detailed information about how this process can prevent violence. 

OSS has a safety tip line for community members, parents and students to share their concerns. We were among the first in the nation to offer this as a “text to tip” option as well as online and by phone.

We are partners in keeping our students safe in school and we ask you to speak with your child and remind them that when they see or hear something concerning, to reach out to a trusted adult who can contact the authorities, or use our safety tip line. Remind them, if they feel there is immediate danger, they should dial 911, if they can. Families and students can learn how to talk about safety concerns at school by taking a free, online, interactive training titled “Safe & Caring Schools for Families”

More than anything, we need to take the time to ask each other how we are doing. We need to listen when someone says that they are not okay. We need to sit down with our children or coworkers and check in. These simple acts of community and caring can make a big difference. Together, we are stronger.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Fairfax County Public Schools