School security

Published 11:04 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Florida shooting prompts wide range of ideas

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

One resident asked for more physical barriers at Isle of Wight County’s schools, while another called on Virginia to enact stricter guns laws in the wake of a Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead. 

Carrollton resident Ed Easter asked the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Thursday to appeal to the governor for stricter gun laws, such as those enacted by Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting, to avoid sending students to a “day prison.” Zuni resident Pete Greene suggested that grated gates, fences and Kevlar glass may better protect students. 

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Easter and Greene were reacting to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, one of many in recent years that have occurred across the country and while the ongoing debate on gun control fails to advance.   {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In a letter to parents last week, Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent Dr. James Thornton outlined the systems safety protocols that include school resource officers at the middle and high schools, daily patrol checks, lockdown drills, monitored access at doors, security cameras and a secure tip line for anonymous concerns. 

“We conduct lockdown drills several times a year, with the most recent one occurring last month,” said Thornton in the letter.

“Students practice for situations involving an active threat in their school,” he said, adding that he also plans to develop a funding proposal for implementing more recommendations in a recent safety audit conducted on the schools. 

Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office Major James Clarke said his agency focuses on prevention.

“Safety of the schools is paramount,” he said. 

Clarke said the Sheriff’s Office investigates reports of students who are exhibiting troubling behavior. They interview the student, as well as make a home visit, said Clarke.

“Parents are normally very cooperative,” he said, adding that a student’s access to firearms is also assessed.

So far, deputies have not found a case where students are given free rein to guns, he said. 

Clarke said the Sheriff’s Office also works with the schools crisis safety teams and is on hand during lockdown drills. Deputies and school officials go over how to announce the presence of an active shooter, should it occur, he said. 

The schools are also equipped with cameras throughout so that all parts of the building can be monitored at the Sheriff’s Office, Clarke said.

Schools that do not have a SRO assigned to it receive daily visits from deputies, who can often work at the schools filing reports remotely. 

And while the front entrance of each school has cameras and a buzzer system, there is a concern when multiple people are at the door, Clarke said.

“We need to do some more training at the schools,” he said.

At the same time, adding infrastructure, such as metal detectors or physical barriers, costs money, he said.

Those items do not fall within the budget parameters of the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Clarke said the Sheriff’s Office is looking into more physical safety infrastructure, but ultimately the question comes down to who is responsible for school safety.  

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell said one safety item that has resulted from a past school shooting is a numbering system on all the doors, so that first responders can easily identify where they need to enter the building. 

Howell said that his agency has also worked with the schools and in the aftermath of the Florida shooting, plan to develop further training and amend tactics going forward. 


In December 2012 a lone man, armed with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and shot to death 20 young children and six teachers. 

After that shooting, the Connecticut General Assembly passed several new laws designed to limit gun access. 

The laws included expanding an existing ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds and requiring the registration of existing assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines, according to The New York Times. 

Connecticut also required background checks for all firearms sales and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing a firearm, according to The New York Times. 

After those laws were put into practice, the number of gun deaths in the state began to fall, from 226 in 2012 to 164 in 2016, according to The New York Times. {/mprestriction}