The difficult decision to resume classes

Interim school superintendent: ‘I didn’t sleep Monday night’

It was one week ago this past Tuesday, the evening of April 11, that Rappahannock County Public School’s interim superintendent Dr. Gary Blair first became aware of a “perceived” threat against the county high school.

An investigation, he was told, had been launched by the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, but given it was a developing case — and reportedly involved a minor — even Blair “couldn’t get the information” he wanted.

But he’d heard enough to be concerned.

“If it were not for spring break people could not have convinced me to have school last week,” acknowledged Blair, who as early as the 1990s sat on a task force examining school violence.

Spring break, though, was upon Rappahannock County students and by the time Easter rolled around Blair had been briefed about everything the school system knew — in short, that one of its own high school students allegedly threatened violence against the school.

So on the night of Easter Sunday, with classes scheduled to resume Tuesday morning, Blair told this newspaper: “I wasn’t about to open the school.”

“You don’t take chances with children,” he said. “You hear something, you take those threats seriously. Sadly, this is another era for Rappahannock County.”

At the same time, Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton was seeking to assure Blair and other school administrators that she’d “removed the threat” to the school. With enhanced security procedures in place she said she was confident that students would be safe within the school environment.

Feeling reassured by what he’d been told, Blair by Monday afternoon “felt I had no reason not to have school. The sheriff’s office was decisive and detailed. I was incredibly impressed with the quality of Sheriff Compton’s investigation.”

But, he admitted: “I didn’t sleep Monday night.”

By the time the sun had risen Tuesday morning, and some 400 students prepared to return from spring break, two Virginia State Police K-9 units were wrapping up a sweep of every inch of the high school.

Blair was also at the high school to greet returning teachers, who were arriving early for a hastily called faculty meeting in which they were told of the unfortunate events that happened over the holiday.

From there, Blair, who joined the Rappahannock school system in 2014 as director of human resources (he’s the former division superintendent of Buckingham County Public Schools) left to brief officials from the elementary school, “where let me stress there has not been an inkling of threats.”

Beyond that, as the school busses started to arrive Tuesday morning, he could only hold his breath — not because of any residual risks, rather how the unfolding events would be received and interpreted by the school body.

“There are visible and invisible security measures now in place, and they will continue to evolve,” Blair said in no uncertain terms. “You can’t do it all in one day, but we’re doing it. We’re not going back to what they were.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Blair had the school system robocall the parents of every student, alerting them to what had occurred and assuring them of their child’s safety, except he insisted to his staff that “the voice they hear be mine. I wanted to be the one on the call. You see, I have my own four children and four grandchildren.”

“We have a kind and more gentle atmosphere here at these schools,” Blair explained. “I don’t want to ruin that. And we can still have it with more security.”

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About John McCaslin 83 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.