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Student Safety An Issue At Highland School Board Meeting

John Trees of Bath County, who teaches hunter safety courses in the Bath school system, was on hand at Monday’s Highland County School Board November meeting. He was there along with Bob Kelly of the Highland County Sheriff’s department to advocate for those courses to be added to Highland’s curriculum, which was ultimately approved. During his presentation at the latter part of the meeting, he mentioned teaching students about a “zone of fire”, which seems like an apt description of where the school board and administration found themselves during most of the meeting, as a number of parents showed up to unload their concerns with safety at the school.

During the initial public comment section, Highland-Bath Recorder reporter John Bruce asked:

“Did the school have a statement about the incident, or non-incident Friday that led to the higher than the usual level of police presence?”

Highland Superintendent Dr. Schott responded that a rumor had been reported to the Virginia State Police by a parent, and that they and the Highland Sheriff’s department has responded and investigated, and found no danger – that the rumor was indeed just a rumor. That answer did not satisfy several parents though, including Barbara Arnott and Cane Sampson, who questioned how parents were to know their children were safe in school when no information was being released from the school during the incident. High school principal Tim Good said an all-call had gone out at 6:00 pm that day, but some parents said they had not received it.

Speaking as a parent and a member of the media, this reporter noted that the best way to counter rumors which spread quickly via social media and word of mouth is to release information in a timely manner, and in the future, more pro-active actions besides an all call going out hours after an event might be more helpful.

Mr. Sampson also noted he had spoken with administrators that day on another matter of concern, and was not satisfied with the response.

Even after that discussion ended, and the meeting moved on to other agenda items, the Board was still not out of the woods. After Dr. Schott presented his comprehensive plan for the school system, parent Tammy Minnigh spoke during the comment period following. Noting that the plan mentioned addressing anti-bullying efforts several times, she expressed her dissatisfaction when she brought attention to past and ongoing incidents of bullying, saying the school’s response was confusing, inconsistent and ineffective. She said her frustration reached the breaking point the previous Monday.

“And I think what got me the most, is I had a specific ‘What are you guys going to do?’ – there is a problem, I see it, it’s coming, and I’m really unhappy with this. And the answer I got was ‘Well, we’re all praying about it, and we are all just really praying that it’s going to be better.’”

“And, I’m sorry, I’m a Christian, and I pray about it, but that cannot be the answer that school staff is giving me, is their answer to the problem is we’re praying about it, and we have to trust it’s going to get better.”

Board chair Chris Amirault said, “Let me just say one more thing. We’re moving towards protecting the kids – we’re always going that direction. Sometimes it’s fast enough, sometimes it’s not.”

“You need to understand, if you have an issue, and you feel like it’s not being addressed, we are here. I’ve gotten one phone call in six months. So, use your resources”

“Thank you, I did not know it was an option to call anybody on the school board.”

“It’s a public office- you have that right. But, I encourage you to go through the chain, and I just want you to understand – the welfare of each and every child is our direction.”

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Scott Smith

Scott is the News Director for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan, and also is a member of the boards of the Highland-Bath Farm Bureau , Highland Chamber of Commerce and Highland Sheep and Wool Association. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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