Public schools tightening security

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013


FRANKLIN—Officials in Western Tidewater’s three public school districts are working to strengthen school security long-term after the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Getting a police officer in the City of Franklin Public schools is one goal, said Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle. Finding the money will be a budget priority.

“I’d like one for every school, but we’ve got to start small,” Bell said, noting that even having one per building can serve as a deterrent and foster a positive relationship with students.

For example, an officer can talk with a student returning from suspension and suggest ways to start clean.

Belle said she’d like for students to see that police are on their side.

Card readers are in place at Franklin High School, and security systems are being tightened by Honeywell, she said.

Belle said she’d like to enclose the high school’s exposed second and third halls, but architectural issues and money makes that not feasible at this time.

In Southampton County Public Schools, additional deputies have been put in place prior to the holiday vacation.

“The priority to be proactive in making a consistently safe environment for all of our schools,” said Southampton Superintendent Dr. Alvera Parrish. “What we’ve done is just strengthen procedures we already had in place.”

Two examples are making sure there are working cameras already placed strategically around schools and a buzz-in camera security system. The latter keeps any person from just walking in.

“I had a meeting with all principals and did a review of safety guidelines and crisis plan in place,” said Parrish.

One modification includes making sure students understand not to open doors for people trying to enter building.

“We talked about signing students in and out of the building when they’re to be picked up for outside appointments,” she said, explaining this would be a way to ensure that the people picking up students are the correct ones.

In the next week or so, Parrish said, there’ll be a discussion with the sheriff’s office about protocol of a crisis plan.

“I’m very optimistic about what will come out,” she said.

“We are currently reviewing our Crisis Response Plan to strengthen the safety and security of our students,” said Kenita Bowers, coordinator for community affairs and media relations with the Isle of Wight school district.

She added that new legislation on school safety and crisis response is anticipated to come up when the General Assembly returns this Wednesday. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s newly created School Safety Task Force will provide guidelines.

“Our Crisis Team met with local law enforcement before the holiday break and has plans to meet with them again to maintain our lines of communication and update our Crisis Response plan,” said Bowers.

There are already police officers to go back and forth in the two middle and two high schools. The county Sheriff’s office said police presence will continue at the five elementary schools.

“We were very pleased and parents were reassured at the sight of the officers at each school when the children returned this week,” she said.