Heightened security awareness for upcoming Hampton Roads high school graduations

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Graduation time is coming here in Hampton Roads, and needless to say, the shooting in Richmond may be causing concern.

Old Dominion University is preparing to host 18 high school graduations in seven days starting this Saturday.

Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Suffolk all use Chartway Arena for their ceremonies, while the ODU Police Department provides security at graduations there.

“We want everybody to know that here, we are doing everything we can to ensure that it is as much a celebratory process as it can be,” said ODU Police Chief Garrett Shelton.

ODU Police works with the police departments for each city, along with school resource officers for each school.

“We have meetings with the different school districts to ensure that we are taking all the right steps to provide the security necessary for each event,” Shelton said.

They also work closely with Norfolk Police and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Department, as those agencies provide mutual aid to the university.

Shelton said their work begins long before graduation night to keep students safe.

“We have a pretty significant footprint when it comes to everything we do that’s visible to everyone,” Shelton said, “as well as all of the things we do behind the scenes, watching social media, working with our criminal intelligence partners, with local and state law enforcement agencies, seeing if there’s anything that may be stirring in the social media world that could cause some concerns here.”

Shelton said they have meetings ahead of time with the different school districts to make sure they’re providing the necessary security for each event, but a lot goes on behind the scenes before the ceremonies start.

Guests must go through metal detectors to enter Chartway Arena, while Hampton Public Schools said they utilize weapons detection systems along with K9s, and in Virginia Beach, all guests are subject to metal detector inspection at the convention center.

Suffolk and Portsmouth school officials said they have requested additional officers to be at the ceremonies. Virginia Beach City Public Schools also sent a letter to parents about safety requirements for graduation.

Dear VBCPS families,

Our hearts are heavy and our thoughts are with the families, students, and staff in the Richmond community as they mourn yesterday’s tragedy. At a time that should be filled with joy and celebrating tremendous achievement, we are grieving another senseless loss of lives.

As we approach VBCPS graduation ceremonies next week, we’d like to remind you of the measures we take in consultation with both convention center administration and public safety officials in order to ensure safe and smooth commencements for our students and their families:

  • All attendees are subject to metal detector inspection, and please keep in mind that attendees should make no jokes to officers who are conducting the inspections.
  • All items brought into the Virginia Beach Convention Center are subject to inspection. The use of clear bags is encouraged and will help speed up the entry process.
  • Gifts (boxes), camera bags, large objects, containers, noisemakers, balloons, and signs are not permitted.
  • The Virginia Beach Convention Center will be locked and searched before and between graduation ceremonies.
  • Public entry will be properly marked and posted.
  • Illegal paraphernalia and substances, weapons of any kind and alcohol are not permitted.
  • Police and security personnel will be present both inside and outside the convention center to ensure orderly transitions at and between graduations. Guests are expected to comply with all requests from law enforcement and other security personnel as well as from VBCPS staff.

We want you to know that the safety of our students, staff and families is our number one priority as we celebrate this important milestone together. Our Office of Security and Emergency Management partners with the Virginia Beach Police Department and has safety plans in place.

Additional information about graduation safety can be found at VBschools.com. We thank you for your support and partnership in keeping everyone’s safety top of mind.

— Virginia Beach City Public Schools

In addition to these measures, Shelton encourages people to be mindful of their surroundings and say something if they hear of any potential threats, all in an effort to keep students and families safe.

“Reach out to us, reach out to your local police department so that we can look into these matters or issues before they become a problem during the ceremonies,” said Shelton. “I’d rather be more cautious and use an abundance of caution when planning for these events so that we don’t need it.”