Roanoke County school administrators said they will work to better communicate in possible emergency situations after receiving some scrutiny from parents and guardians Friday.

Roanoke County police asked Roanoke County Public Schools to shelter in place around 7:20 a.m. as a precaution due to a “suspicious person” in the southwest area of the county. Police had responded to a report of a family dispute at a home in the 4400 block of Buck Mountain Road, and a “distraught” person reportedly left the home and was armed, police said.

A shelter in place procedure differs from a full lockdown. During a shelter in place, the school day operates mostly the same except outdoor recreation activities are prohibited. In a full lockdown, students and teachers must remain in their classrooms with the doors locked and no one can enter or leave the building.

Many students and employees were still arriving to start the school day when the shelter in place went into effect across the school system.

Schools spokesman Chuck Lionberger said administrators were still trying to ensure students were secure and gather accurate information to relay to parents when police placed Cave Spring Elementary and Cave Spring Middle schools on full lockdown.

The lockdown report came from police at 8:11 a.m., Lionberger said.

“At that point, the safety of the students and staff at these schools was our top priority,” the school system said in a message posted to its website. “About an hour later, we were notified that the police had apprehended the suspicious individual. Once we received the all clear from the police department, the police lifted the lockdowns at Cave Spring Elementary and Cave Spring Middle schools and we lifted the shelter in place at all other schools.”

Police said they found the person they were seeking in the area of Keefer and Buck Mountain roads.

Police spokeswoman Amy Whittaker said the person was detained on an emergency custody order, and no charges have been placed. Police had not released the person’s name as of 4 p.m.

The school system did not send a notice to parents and guardians that the shelter in place or lockdowns had gone into effect until each incident had been cleared. The lack of messaging led to some criticism.

“Ideally, we would’ve sent a message to parents about the initial shelter in place and lockdown,” the school system said. “Our focus was on the safety of our students and attempting to process accurate information in an evolving situation.”

In an emergency situation, the school system said, the safety of students and staff is the top concern; it will continue to take appropriate actions out of an abundance of precaution.

“We believe that communicating with parents is important and we will continue to work to keep parents informed with accurate information as quickly as possible,” the school division said.

The day’s events will serve as a learning opportunity for the school system, Lionberger said.

Roanoke City Public Schools also briefly sheltered in place in response to a situation in the county, according to spokesman Justin McLeod.

The private Faith Christian School, located on Buck Mountain Road, also entered a shelter in place for about 90 minutes, said Head of School Peter Baur.

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County.

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