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Opinion: How can Osbourn HS effectively lockdown with so many children walking off campus?

By Sara Brescia

On Monday, September 12, Osbourn high school in Manassas experienced the threat of gun violence.

It was a chaotic and frightening moment for the city and the school community, which was unfounded.

Although this incident ended without further incident, the question of student safety remains urgent. As anyone who has ever been in the vicinity of Old Town Manassas during school hours knows, Osbourn High School struggles with a truancy problem.

Walking through Old Town at lunch hour, you might be forgiven for thinking Osbourn has an open campus policy (it does not).

At the School Board meeting on Tuesday, September 13 — the day after the gun violence threat-a concerned parent spoke during citizen’s comments, questioning whether the schools can keep children safe when children’s whereabouts are frequently unknown as a matter of routine. How can a school successfully implement a lockdown procedure when so many kids are off campus without leave? How is the school supposed to account for their safety?

Fortuitously, the School Board received a pre-scheduled presentation from the Executive Director of Student Services, Dr. Chevese Thomas, on the 2022-2023 Crisis Plan at the same meeting. This was a perfect opportunity for members of the School Board to ask probing, insightful questions about our crisis procedures and how they were applied to this specific incident.

One current School Board member did ask Dr. Thomas whether protocols were applied to the incident on Monday, September 12th.

The response was underwhelming, “Yesterday we did implement the plan… there were rumors… we did respond, we did use the plan… we did implement the plan… we handled that according to the plan.”

No additional questions were asked for clarification or specifics on the incident and the response. The only further questioning was whether the Crisis Team had debriefed following the incident and whether emotional support resources were made available to students.

I would have approached this moment differently if I were on the School Board. I would have asked Dr. Thomas to describe the events of Monday, September 12. I would have asked her to describe “the plan” and how, strictly, it was implemented.

I would have asked Dr. Thomas to address the question raised by the concerned parent: how does the school account for the safety of students in a lockdown scenario who are absent from campus without leave? Has the Crisis Team factored in the unusually large truancy issue at Osbourn? How?

On the topic of truancy, I would have had some additional questions. What are our attendance procedures at the high school? Have we studied our mid-day truancy issue? How many students leave the campus and do not return to class? How many students leave the campus and eventually find their way back to class? How are hall passes monitored? What controls have we established around the early release/late arrival program? What security procedures do we have in place around the perimeter of the campus?

The School Board is an oversight body. School Board members must ask good, detailed questions of school officials, especially on matters of urgent community concern.

I plan to do just that if I am elected to the School Board.

Brescia is a candidate seeking one of three open seats on the Manassas City School Board during the November 8, 2022, General Election. Here’s more information about the upcoming elections from the city’s website.

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