Highly criticized school locks are now approved

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Were the subject of repeated criticism of school officials

By Frederic Lee 

Staff writer

A $64,000 mistake, initially intended to protect school children from armed gunmen and which fueled a flurry of criticism directed at the Isle of Wight County School Board and school personnel, has been resolved. 

The Nightlock door locking barricade system was recently approved for reinstallation by Isle of Wight County Director of Inspections Art Berkley. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In the end, it was a procedural error that knocked the device off the rails, according to Berkley.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Nightlocks have been reinstalled at Carrsville, Hardy and Windsor elementary schools with the remaining schools to be completed by early June, according to Isle of Wight County schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

The $64,658 door locks were initially implemented last spring in county schools on 718 interior doors. When installed, the locks brace doors with a metal barricade that makes them nearly impossible to open. The locks were subsequently removed by the beginning of the school year at the request of the state fire marshal’s office. 

Following the Nightlocks’ removal, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors had repeatedly brought up the incident as an example of fiscal irresponsibility, and attempted to restrict school spending last September in the weeks following the door locks’ removal. 

The mistake also generated a good deal of criticism from some residents. 

Excerpts from a letter to County Schools Executive Director of Administration and Operations Mark Mabey from Berkley cites the latest edition of the International Building Code as the basis for the doorlocks’ approval, and were included in a recent schools press release.

“This new section was placed in the code to allow for the installation of incident specific security devices in limited occupancy groups to protect public safety,” said Berkley in the letter excerpt.  

Berkley said in a phone interview on April 12 that while the Nightlocks were in violation of the 2015 Virginia Building Code, they were approved based on the 2018 edition of the International Building Code through a modification request, adding that the Virginia codes stem from the International Building Code. 

The International Building Code is a model code produced and updated by the International Code Council, and Berkley said that most states and localities in the U.S. either use the code directly or amended versions of it. 

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors raised concerns pertaining to the county school system’s spending following the removal of the Nightlocks back in the fall. 

Initially, the door barricades were purchased and installed as part of a larger move by county and schools officials to boost security in wake of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting that left 17 people dead. Following that, the Board of Supervisors approved an $846,000 budget request to boost school security measures in the county. Of that, $64,658 was to be used for the Nightlocks. 

After the door locks were removed, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to manage school spending, which was later rescinded after the board learned that they didn’t have the authority for such a regulation. 

Mabey said on April 11 that he’d heard about the Nightlocks being used in another locality in Virginia, which led him to the approval process that eventually allowed for the door locks’ reinstallation.  

The approval of the door locks required a modification request, said Berkley, which doesn’t actually change the building codes themselves, but allows for certain projects to be approved on a case-by-case basis. “It’s not a blanket approval,” said Berkley, adding that other school systems that would want to implement Nightlocks in Virginia would have to go through the same modification request process.   

Berkley said that Virginia agencies are using the 2015 edition of the Virginia Building Code because it takes about three years for new editions to get through the legislative process and become implemented.  

If the proper channels of approval had been followed in the Nightlocks’ original installation, they would never have had to be removed, said Berkley, adding that the door locks’ initial installation was done without a proper permit. 

Mabey also said that the reason the Nightlocks were removed was because they hadn’t gone through the proper channels of approval the first time. 

In the effort of boosting school security in the county, 135 new security cameras have recently been installed at Smithfield Middle and High schools, and a $266,786 emergency notification system is being developed.

The security cameras cost $215,576, and were funded by a $125,000 Virginia Department of education, plus a local contribution of $91,575.  {/mprestriction}