School security being weighed

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

County working on improvements

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The safety of students and teachers in Isle of Wight County’s schools has been on the minds of many local leaders, parents and residents the past week due to the deadly mass shooting in Florida.

The Smithfield Times has looked at Isle of Wight County’s security and emergency response procedures and has surveyed neighboring school districts on the subject of visitor access and other measures to mitigate potential threats. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We owe it to the kids to be doing everything possible to protect them,” said Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

School access

Last week, Isle of Wight County schools hardened its visitor policy, with those coming to the schools being required to state his or her name, reason for the visit and show a photo I.D. to the camera before being allowed in.

The schools are equipped with a remote entry system that allows for two-way communication, but according to a 2016 Equipment, Energy, Security and Safety Assessment by Honeywell International, the camera did not move and did not adjust for visitors’ height differences. 

The 2016 report found some problems with school access, particularly with the issuing and tracking of keys, locking systems and the use of a single passcode for the schools’ intrusion detection system.

“Currently, most schools issue a single passcode to everyone accessing the facility. This is a practice that should cease immediately,” according to the report.

When it comes to managing the keys being issued, the report stated, “We found key management at IWCS performed in an ad-hoc manner with little management and tracking oversight.” 

Isle of Wight County schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs said the schools have implemented a few recommendations, such as upgrading the cameras for better visibility for visitor access. 

“Dr. Thornton has requested that we go through the study and prepare an update for the School Board on what has been implemented and the timeline for the remaining items,” Briggs said.

The next School Board meeting is March 8.

Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rudolph Jefferson suggested the schools double down on visitor access and said a physical barrier could be installed in the lobbies of each school building. That way, visitors would not have access until cleared by administrators, he said. 

Regional practices

Virginia Beach and York County schools, of those surveyed, appeared to have more stringent procedures for visitor access. Both districts require visitors to present identification, which is connected to state sex offender registries. Once cleared, visitors in York County are issued a printed badge, which includes their photo, name and time of arrival, according to schools spokesperson Katherine Goff.  

The I.D. scanner in York County does not cover other offenses, Goff said.

Chesapeake city schools employ the Raptor system to screen visitors, according to spokesperson Angie Smith. The Raptor system screens visitors via state, national and custom databases, according to the company website. 

Each school also has security cameras and a security desk that is manned by a school security officer, said Smith. 

Metal detectors

Isle of Wight County does not employ metal detectors in its schools, nor have there been any discussions or plans to do so, according to Isle of Wight County School Board Chairman Vicky Hulick.

Carrsville District representative Jackie Carr said the schools are reviewing their safety and security measures and looking for any current practices where improvements can be made.

“There has been no talk about installing metal detectors or arming teachers. I will say school safety is a number one priority for Isle of Wight County Schools. We live in a different world and we must be proactive in dealing with the disturbing behaviors now invading schools,” said Carr in an email.

Arming teachers was a suggestion made by President Donald Trump as a way to protect students. 

Some neighboring public school districts do use standing metal detectors or hand-held wands on a regular basis. 

The city of Suffolk uses mobile metal detectors, as does Newport News. 

All Newport News middle and high schools have metal detectors — hand held and walk-through, said Price. 

Those are used on a random basis and not all students are scanned or walked through the detector every day, she said. 

With the hand-held detector, buses and classrooms are chosen on a random basis for scanning students, she said. 

York County does not use metal detectors, said Goff.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice wanted to know who would man the metal detectors and who would pat down those who set off the alarm. 

“I have some reservations on how to do that,” he said.

Grice suggested other alternatives, such as employing auxiliary deputies and enhanced electronic devices to keep doors secure. 

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty had a long list of concerns about using metal detectors and estimates it could cost millions to implement such a program. 

“We will need to have some tough discussions and look at creative ways to partner together to initiate a successful plan for safety and security in our schools, school administration and other county buildings,” he said.

Acree said that if a request for additional infrastructure came from solid research stating it was effective, “I would be hard pressed to go against it,” he said. 

Isle of Wight Emergency Response

A countywide “active shooter” drill with fire and rescue, emergency services, law enforcement and schools, has not been conducted in at least the last three years, according to Isle of Wight County Chief of Emergency Services Jeffrey Terwilliger. 

Smaller groups, such as the rescue squad and police department, have conducted drills over the years, but there has not been a wide-scale comprehensive effort, he added. 

Separately, the Code of Virginia requires school divisions to conduct at least two lock-down drills during the first 20 school days of each session, and to hold at least two additional drills during the remainder of the year. 

The Virginia Department of Education takes that further, specifying that of the four drills, one must be conducted in September and another in January.  

The schools conduct their own drills, as well as work with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, according to Major James Clarke. 

The Sheriff’s Office meets with the schools crisis teams and goes over scenarios, from tornadoes to active shooters, said Clarke. 

To prepare for a school shooting, Isle of Wight Emergency Services has scheduled a mass casualty training session on March 11, according to Terwilliger. 

However, incidents involving mass casualties would be beyond local capability and would require outside help, according to Terwilliger. 

Isle of Wight County has seven independent volunteer fire and rescue agencies, as well as the county’s emergency services department, which oversees paid personnel and disaster preparedness. 

Another feature is Isle of Wight County’s large geographic area, where fire and rescue response times average 10 minutes and seven seconds for the first unit to arrive, Terwilliger said. 

Mike Stinson works with Tri-Med Tactical, which trains organizations in active shooter and hostile event response. He said it’s important to reduce the time between an injury and when a medical response is administered.  Training teachers and law enforcement in basic emergency medical protocols, such as how to stop bleeding, is a way to do that, as well as reducing the time between that response and reaching a hospital. 

Chesapeake public schools does a level-three lockdown drill in the fall along with the city’s police and fire departments, according to schools safety letter posted on its website.  

School preparedness

Isle of Wight County schools have an emergency operations policy and procedure available in the main office of each building, according to the 2016 Honeywell report. 

The report pointed out that scripts to be used are designed for use after an event. The report suggested scripts be created for use during an event, as well as pre-recorded and automated to avoid confusion in “an adrenaline-filled” situation.

The report also recommended that support staff also receive full emergency procedure training. 

Other measures

In addition to lockdown drills and visitor policies, Isle of Wight County Schools uses a secure tip line for anonymous messages for specific concerns and has security cameras throughout the schools that can be viewed at the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office. The doors at the school buildings are numbered to provide easy identification and access. The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office has a school resource officer, SRO, in the middle and high schools and patrol deputies routinely visit the elementary schools.

However, it has recently been revealed that the armed SRO on duty during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida remained outside the building. He has since resigned. 

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office also focuses on prevention and will go as far as conducting an interview and home visit if a concern is raised about a student, according to Clarke. 

Hulick , who has elementary school-age children herself, had a more sobering outlook.

“I’m deeply saddened for these children, that they have to worry about being shot going to school,” she said. 

Staff writer Elizabeth Pattman contributed to this report.  {/mprestriction}