PCPS reconsidering vetting process for volunteers after man brings knife into elementary school

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Police responded to Shenandoah Elementary School after reports of a suspicious person
Police responded to Shenandoah Elementary School after reports of a suspicious person

By Randy Arrington

SHENANDOAH, March 31 — The 46-year-old man who brought a knife into Shenandoah Elementary School on Thursday was there to simply “assist with a fundraiser,” according to school officials.

“The knife on his side was never brandished, no threats were made at any time, and no one was physically harmed in yesterday’s incident,” reads a letter issued on Friday afternoon to Shenandoah Elementary faculty, staff and families.

“Standard check-in procedures were followed; however, due to the charged individual’s clothing — a jacket, long shirt, and vest — school staff who checked him in were not aware of the presence of the knife,” the letter continues.

Friday’s letter from Dr. Antonio Fox, the superintendent of Page County Public Schools, attempted to answer questions left lingering following Thursday afternoon’s press conference for the media in the parking lot behind the school.

“PCPS is also reviewing our volunteer protocols and the circumstances surrounding the charged individual’s presence in the school,” Dr. Fox’s letter reads. “The individual was a pre-approved volunteer in the school…”

Thomas Benjamin Loving was spotted near the school by both a nearby resident and a teacher within the school just before 10:30 a.m. School officials called 911 as a teacher hit the “emergency alert” on the school system’s new LifeSpot app, which offers real time communication during an “active threat”. What was believed to potentially be a holster carrying a firearm, ended up being a knife sheath and a knife.

Loving was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor for possession of a knife on school property. Sheriff Cubbage stated at Thursday afternoon’s press conference that “the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.”

Dr. Fox confirmed on Friday that no School Resource Officer was on duty at Shenandoah Elementary on Thursday when the incident occurred, however the superintendent continue to applaud local law enforcement for a rapid response when they were called.

“We have received several questions about the status of the School Resource Officer (SRO). On Thursday, March 30, 2023, the Shenandoah SRO followed his chain of command to notify staff that he was ill and would not be at the school. Given that this happened before the start of the school day, there was insufficient time for the Page County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) to secure an immediate replacement,” the letter from Dr. Fox states.

“When an SRO is unable to be present at one of our schools, the PCSO typically assigns patrol staff to the school, and town police also conduct routine patrols,” the letter continues. “Yesterday, there were PCSO deputies and Shenandoah Police in the area, resulting in an immediate response when the 911 call was initiated from the school. In fact, a PCSO deputy responded to the 911 call and arrived in less than one minute.”

Students will return to Shenandoah Elementary on Monday, April 3 after the school was closed on Friday. As the school system continues to “investigate the events that led up to yesterday’s incident”, the superintendent reminds everyone of the importance of getting back to a “typical school day experience.”

“…teachers and staff [will be] focusing on a typical school day experience for students. Resuming our normal schedule is an important next step for everyone,” the March 31 letter reads. “More information about Monday will be sent to families as well as some tips for parents/guardians on talking with their child after a traumatic event.”

Additional school counselors and staff will be on hand at Shenandoah Elementary on Monday to provide support and assistance as needed, according to Dr. Fox.

“While there are currently no active threats to any of our students or schools there will be additional law enforcement present at all PCPS schools on Monday to provide additional reassurance,” the superintendent continued.

Dr. Fox stated that the local school system is using Thursday’s scare as an opportunity to evaluate the division’s procedures and learn from any missteps or deficiencies.

“As part of our response to this incident, we will be working with staff at all of our schools to discuss strategies and possible additional protocols that will enhance our building security efforts, and we are fully reevaluating our volunteer vetting process,” the letter stated. “We will review every action and communication and are having conversations about what went well, what we could have done different, and what we can improve upon. We are conducting this debrief in coordination with law enforcement, school staff at Shenandoah, and central office staff.”

Thursday afternoon’s press conference at Shenandoah Elementary School

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