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Newport News parents, community leaders sound off on school safety concerns after shooting at Heritage High

The community had a chance to raise their concerns to the school board in person Tuesday. Division leaders also spoke about what steps they’re taking moving forward.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — One day after the shooting inside Heritage High School, concerned parents shared what they think can be done to prevent another tragedy from happening. 

Parent Tonya Clark said communication should be swifter and stronger. "I expect certain information should be shared with families, with parents, with students."

One mother recounts picking up her child after the school went on lockdown.

"I know everyone’s doing the best they can, but I feel like as Newport News, we can do better," she said. "I shouldn’t have to go into my son’s school able to not get my bag checked, not get my ID checked, I could walk in there and be anybody."

She also encourages school leaders to think about adding a class for life skills, for things like anger management.

"You have no idea what a person is dealing with at home, what their anger issues are, [maybe they] don't have the mother or father love they’re looking for," she said. 

A couple of local leaders with community organizations also showed up, asking to engage with the schools and build rapport with students.

"Especially these babies coming off the pandemic, being socially isolated for over a year prior to this incident taking place. I was already concerned about that," said LaTonya Denson with the Abu Unity Foundation. 

Moving forward, school division leaders plan on hosting “after action” meetings with police, school staff and security. They’re also going to seek input from students about campus safety before returning to in-person learning.

"Moving forward, what type of systems are we having in place as students and staff begin to return back to school," said Superintendent Dr. George Parker.

Meantime, school division leaders emphasize there are already layered safety measures in place, as well as security and school resource officers at the schools.

“I mentioned random and planned searches," said Rashard Wright, the chief of staff of Newport News Public Schools. "Our random safety searches are completed on school buses, classrooms and also often completed when searching lockers.”

Parker told 13News Now school officials use metal detector wands, but students don’t walk through airport-style detectors daily. 

Dr. Parker said it will be crucial to learn what comes out of the police investigation to find out which school safety procedures need to be kept, changed or added.

"We can’t move forward with a plan until we have accurate information on what took place," said Dr. Parker. 

Everyone —  including parents, community leaders and school administrators — acknowledges the school division can do better. People in Newport News and beyond are thinking about the injured students and the school community at large. 

Any affected staff, students and families who needs someone to talk to can reach out to the emotional support hotline. The number to call is 757-283-7868 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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