'It's a great day to be a Hurricane,' Heritage High School students return to in-person learning

heritage high
Posted at 9:31 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 09:47:02-04

Heritage High School students and staff are returning to the classroom for the first time in over a month, when a student shot and injured two of his classmates.

Related: Suspect in Heritage High shooting in custody; police say video footage believed to have been captured

"It's a great day to be a Hurricane," said Newport News Public Schools Superintendant, Dr. George Parker.

But as students and faculty enter the building, things are looking a bit different as increased safety measures about being implemented.

The school is implementing increased classroom searches and backpack inspections, which will use handheld metal detectors as kids step off the bus.

There will also now be 6 security officers on campus instead of 4.

"Our staff has been trained," said Dr. Felicia Barnett, executive director of the Office of Secondary School Leadership. "Our security team particularly with security scans, quick checks for buses and for classrooms. There will be random metal detection upon entering the building as well."

While the new security measures did cause congestion as students reentered the building, Dr. George Parkr, says all kids were inside the building within 30 minutes and expects that time to shrink as kids adjust.

"This was totally different than what we normally do and we want to make sure we have a heightened sense of awareness," said Dr. Parker.

While today's increased security measures will remain in place indefinitely, but Dr. Parker says may lighten or be adjusted once they become part of the fabric of Heritage High.

"It may not be a day-to-day occurrence but we want to make sure that the deterrent is there so our students understand at any given time we will be implementing safety measures," he said. "The campus safety plan we have in place right now will be in place until we know the deterrent as made [its way] into the culture of the school. They'll be in place as long as necessary to make sure it's part of the culture of the school and then we will continue on with regular deterrents like required and random searches."

Heritage High also used the time outside the building to refurbish its communication platforms.

"We also enhanced our product to make sure we have the texting and other systems in place to be sure we can send out alerts from the school division in a timely way," explained Dr. Parker.

While physical safety is important to Heritage High, faculty says they are also focusing on mental health, hosting town halls with students and providing increased counseling.

Related: Mental health services provided after Heritage High School shooting

Dr. Parker said they have also revamped their protocols dealing with kids with criminal charges.

"Coming back from a virtual environment we wanted to make sure all of our processes were in place," said Dr. Parker. "So if a student is charged in the community we are notified in a timely way and work with those students to make sure they're appropriately placed...[We will] not deny students of education due to that type of decision."

Parents and guardians say their kids were overjoyed to enter the classroom today.

"I walked them to school...and it was joy," said Shirley Holley, grandparent of Heritage High School and Huntington Middle School students. "School is important, education will take you a long way."

Another parent says feels comfortable with the safety measures put in place.

"I taught in Newport news for 18 years, and one of the main things Newport News is a smart, safe school, and I feel nothing but safe having my son Archie, who's a senior here at Heritage, return [to school]" said Rhonda Bell, a Heritage High parent.

Related: Huntington Middle School students return after school shooting at Heritage High