NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — For more than three hours, parents, students and teachers addressed the Newport News School Board Tuesday night.
It was the first time they were able to speak directly to the board since a 6-year-old brought a gun to school and shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary.
Their comments ranged from the shooting investigation, the new metal detectors, behavioral issues and gun violence infiltrating schools. As you can imagine, emotions were high, ranging from anger, anguish and helplessness.
Here is what they had to say:
"I send my kids to school and I find myself praying to God that they will return home safely," one mother said through tears. "They go through live shooter drills, in which they are instructed to wait quietly at their desks. When asked about these drills, my 7-year-old daughter says that she sits with her head down and cries because she wonders if she will be able to hug her mommy again."
"I don’t want to have a family dinner where I talk about where my kids will hide in their school. I would rather be discussing archery practice," said another mother.
One father called for the resignation of all the Newport News School Board members and Superintendent Dr. George Parker.
"Students need to be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their age or circumstances," he said.
"Our teachers and staff have a right to attend schools that are save and conducive to their ability to do their job without worry of physical or verbal assault," said one PTA president.
Another mother raised the issue of behavioral problems, saying too much grace has been given to students causing problems.
"This grace has turned into enabling. We have failed our students."
A Warwick High School parent said she's paying attention to what the board does next.
"Dr. Parker stated at the press conference that the school division will also conduct an internal investigation. At all levels of Newport News Public Schools, trust has been lost. One of the steps to returning that trust would be an outside investigation."
A JMU professor stepped up to the podium to say kids do not feel safe in their own classrooms.
"Measures like the addition of metal detectors are being taken reactively, not proactively," he said. "Our students do not wonder if there will be another school shooting. They wonder when and where the next shooting will be."
A mother of four children in the school division has a lot of questions about the new metal detectors. Specifically, she wanted to know what the consequences will be if a student comes in with something they shouldn't, like a gun.
"All these fancy metal detectors. Biggest questions: who is going to man them? Who is gonna maintain them?"
Another man questioned the metal detectors at all.
"Instead of getting metal detectors, why don’t we hire more school safety officers? Why don’t we give teachers back power in their classrooms?"
"My fear tonight is that all of these people, all of our words won’t be heard by this board," said CNU head basketball coach, John Krikorian.
He urged parents to boycott SOLs through 8th grade if they still don't feel heard.
The overwhelming message during that meeting is children should not have to be afraid to go to school and they want to see more done to make that happen.