Cold Harbor lockdown draws parent concerns

A Mechanicsville-area elementary school was placed on lockdown early last Friday after a threatening note was found posted on a school bus. Though no threat ever actually existed, some parents are concerned that they were not notified soon enough.

“If I had received a text alert or an automated phone call [from the school division], like when it snows, I could’ve made the decision of whether or not to put [my child] on the bus,” said Jennifer Trimmer, who has a student at Cold Harbor Elementary School.

According to Lt. Chris Whitley, of the Hanover Sheriff’s Office, last Friday, his department responded to Cold Harbor Elementary School at approximately 7 a.m., but Trimmer said she was not contacted until 9:30 a.m.

Trimmer said her first grader got picked up from his bus stop at 7:25 a.m. and at that point, she was not aware of the incident.

Cold Harbor Elementary School officially notified parents and guardians in an email message at 9:30 a.m. Then, the school division sent out emails to all Hanover parents at roughly 9:57 a.m.

The school division’s policy is to “immediately” contact parents about an incident after information and facts are gathered from the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation, said Linda Scarborough, communication specialist.

“Once the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office releases the details of their investigation, school administration reviews the plans that were put into place to ensure the safety of students and staff during that event,” Scarborough said.  “Often these specific details are included in the message that is sent from the building principal.

Even though emails were sent out, many parents and guardians found out beforehand through social media and various news outlets reporting on the event. The Sheriff’s Office also sent out a press release on Facebook.

While at work, Trimmer heard about the incident from her boss who gets phone notifications from a local news site.

“It was scary,” she said.

At that time, she did not know much except that her son was sent to school on the bus and she was unaware of how severe the situation could be.

Trimmer said that even if parents were informed just shortly after an incident occurs, she would still be upset but she would feel better knowing what’s going on.

The posted note contained a general threat to all Hanover County Public Schools.

Whitley said, as a result, the school was placed on lockdown in keeping with normal safety and security response protocols.

No students or their parents were allowed inside of the school until a thorough security sweep could be completed by Sheriff’s Office personnel. The Sheriff’s Office also deployed explosive detecting K-9s.

Trimmer’s son told her that his school bus driver was instructed to wait outside of the school along the road, but he did not know what was going on, she said.

Following a full sweep, officials determined that no apparent threat existed, and students, parents, and faculty were allowed inside of the school. The school lockdown was also lifted around 9:20 a.m. and classes resumed normally for the rest of the day.

The Sheriff’s Office remained at each Hanover County Public School campus for the remainder of the day in order to reassure students, faculty, and parents, according to Whitley.

Another Cold Harbor parent Karen Owens was gracious for the department’s work in ensuring student safety, but Owens said she would have liked for the school to tell parents about the incident in a more timely fashion.

She said any form of a brief alert to parents would have been appreciated. Owens takes her second grader to school each day and on Friday morning, the parking lots were filled with cars that weren’t allowed to drop their children off. It was clear something was going on, but Owens said at that point she did not know the schools had been threatened.

“As a parent, I would’ve preferred an almost immediate, “Hey, don’t take your kids to school,’ ” Owens said.

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm