DC area school officials stepping up security measures amid threats

The Department of Justice is getting involved after a spike in threats and harassment against school officials.

It comes as some local school districts are taking their own actions and beefing up security.

READ MORE: Prince William County School Board voting to change public comment policy

Prince William County Public Schools now has security conducting bag searches of those attending school board meetings. Security also unlocks the door of the boardroom for those entering.

At the last board meeting in September, security cleared out the board room for a time after confrontations between attendees.

One man who spoke during public comment, Emmitt Fletcher, commended those at the meeting Wednesday for remaining peaceful.

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"It’s very important for us to check our behavior when we come in the door, said Fletcher. "Make sure that we are proper role models for the kids."

The new security measures were added ahead of that last meeting. Some questioned the necessity.

"I feel that the lines are becoming blurred because of the extra security we’ve been having here lately especially," said a woman who spoke. "I haven’t seen or heard anyone threatening a school board member at any of these meetings. Calling them a liar? Maybe."

A school spokeswoman says there have been threats and abusive language directed at school leaders. This week, the DOJ said that’s spiking nationwide, and the agency is now directing federal officials to work with local authorities to address it.

"I think they’re trying to put pressure on parents not to speak," said parent Jason Van Valin.

READ MORE: Loudoun County School Board releases new guidelines for public comment during meetings

While some see it as an effort to stifle their speech, DOJ says it’s looking at criminal harassment and threats and will also help schools create specialized training and guidance to deal with it.

Babur Lateef, Prince William Co. School Board Chair, said the help from local authorities has been sufficient. 

"We have an excellent relationship with our police - Peter Newsham, who’s our new chief of police has done an excellent job. He’s been working with our communications team, with our superintendent to make sure we have to feel safe here. And to make sure parents and students who come to our meetings feel safe as well. And to make sure our schools are safe. So we haven’t found a need to do anything more than work with our local police," he said.

The DOJ action comes after a letter last week from the National School Boards Association to President Biden asking for federal help with threats and intimidation.