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Reported bomb threat interrupts Charlottesville teacher workday to address violence at high school

Partway through the second of two teacher workdays to deal with the violence and mayhem that shut down Charlottesville High School for three days leading into the Thanksgiving holiday, the campus was shut down entirely on Tuesday after reports of a bomb threat.

"This afternoon, we received word that an image of what appeared to be a bomb was posted to a CHS student SnapChat group," reads the opening line of a text message sent to parents around 2:30 p.m.

That image launched a search of the premises, according to Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis.

"Our canine team is going through the school and making sure there’s no bomb," he told The Daily Progress later in the afternoon.

Kochis said he sent in the sniffing dog team out of an abundance of caution even though the Snapchat amounted to a "very vague" threat.

"We always take them as if they’re real until they’re not," said Kochis.

No bomb was found, according to Amanda Korman, a Charlottesville City Schools spokeswoman.

"We have since learned that the person who posted the image, who is a CHS student, had not realized that the image could be interpreted as a threat," Korman told The Daily Progress. "And they regret making those posts."

Korman added that the student has been referred for discipline, but would provide no further details.

Korman said that the building was evacuated by 2:10 p.m. and administrators and teachers went home to make way for the search. Although their second workday was interrupted, Korman said strides had been made toward resolving the recent troubles that have plagued the home of the Black Knights this year, including the sudden, mid-term resignation of Principal Rashaad Pitt.

"I think it has been a very productive two days," said Korman. "These days were an opportunity for faculty and staff to get on the same page to support students and to use consequences when students make mistakes."

Charlottesville School Superintendent Royal Gurley and the school board indicated Friday in an open letter that the first school closure was precipitated by teachers who refused to teach because of student behavior.

There have been reports this school year of a band of students who refuse to go to class but instead wander the halls looking for fights, multiple brawls in school common areas have been filmed and circulated online, teachers have complained that they have no means to discipline students and counselors have said the school district has not punished students given state guidance that severe punishments lower graduation rates.

All of this came to a head Thursday of last week when multiple fights were reported on school grounds, an 18-year-old who does not attend CHS was granted access for the sole purpose of entering the fray and police were called to restore order.

Teachers refused to come to class the next day, and within 24 hours school officials declared Monday and Tuesday teacher workdays.

Korman said that when CHS reopens Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, it will be a school that’s both stronger and safer.

"The reason that Dr. Gurley and the school board were in support of having teacher workdays was to ensure there was time and space for faculty and staff to discuss the issues they were seeing," said Korman. "And number two, but perhaps more importantly, to talk about solutions and get back to the business of learning."

Korman said the crisis has sparked an outpouring of concern.

"Since last Friday, we have heard from concerned parents and particularly from alumni saying, ‘How can I help? I’m a Black Knight, and this school meant so much to me, and I want to help.’"

Korman said the school district has launched a push to hire substitute teachers and to onboard volunteers, and she said that the school division plans additional communications to parents before the reopening.


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