IW school board OKs new security measures

Published 12:20 pm Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Isle of Wight County School Board unanimously approved over $840,000 in new division-wide school security measures during its Thursday meeting. This has been done in response to the mass shooting that occurred on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The plan includes $240,000 in upgrades to the division’s emergency communications system; $65,000 in upgrades to individual schools’ intrusion detection systems; $188,000 in upgrades to schools’ existing access control badge systems, which require the swipe of an ID badge to open doors; $56,000 for 12 additional door swipes; $169,360 to ensure that all interior security cameras in schools have high definition resolution, so that any suspicious individuals can be better identified; $60,000 to upgrade exterior cameras to HD resolution; and $68,584 to implement a door barricade system, which would allow students and staff to quickly lock any door from the inside. The total cost to implement these upgrades comes to $846,944.

All upgrade recommendations came as a result of a recent security study, which included input from high school students.

Mark Mabey, the division’s executive director of administration and operations, explained that the bulk of the cost associated with the access control badge system would be to reconfigure the division’s existing door swipes to be used by both staff and middle and high school students.

“With the addition of new classrooms and buildings, having students have access to doors with badges would allow us to keep our doors locked and secured at all times,” Mabey said. “Those who would need a badge would have a badge.”

As for the door barricade system, he said the division was looking at a brand called Nightlock.

“It is virtually impossible for an intruder to break,” Mabey said. “We would like to put this on every classroom door, including gyms or anywhere where students might possibly be trapped. If you had a substitute, as long as the kids knew where it was they could show the teacher. It’s that simplistic to just drop it into place.”

He added that the cost of the system would include having the company install the system in every room and that the system would come with a releasing device for use by law enforcement tactical teams.

Most of the money to pay for the security upgrades would come from roughly $820,000 the division recently saved from roof replacements at Carrollton and Windsor elementary schools coming in under budget. The motion the board passed with regards to approving the new security measures authorizes Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton to request that the county’s Board of Supervisors reallocate the unspent money to fund the upgrades.

The topic of school security also came up during citizens’ time, with Ed Easter of Carrollton and Herb DeGroft of Smithfield speaking on the matter.

Easter asked the members of the school board to send a statement to Gov. Ralph Northam insisting that he do whatever is necessary to protect Virginia schools. Easter had made the same request of the county’s Board of Supervisors during their Feb. 15 meeting.

“And it’s not arming our teachers,” he said. “They’re not there to pull guns out and start shooting people.

“We have again lost another number of our young people to an amendment of our constitution. I cannot understand how a love of guns will keep us from saving our kids, how can we say we’re the greatest country in the world when we permit the slaughter of our kids in our schools? The only state that’s really tried to do anything has been Connecticut, which has instituted controls and laws that have helped reduce the crime rate. Anyone who wants to argue the second amendment, I want you to tell me what the first part of that actually means, there’s a lot more to the second amendment than just owning a gun.”

DeGroft said he recently went down to the southern end of the county and attempted to use his former school board member ID badge to gain access to a school, and was successful in doing so.

“Guess who showed up five minutes after I left, a deputy, 20 minutes after I entered that school,” he said, explaining that he had tripped a silent alarm.

He then called for the county Sheriff’s Office to reinstate its practice of having school resource officers at every county school.

“Just like a minefield in the military deters the bad guys, a patrol car outside presents a visual impediment,” he said.

A letter Thornton sent to parents two days after the Florida shooting, however, stated that the division’s high schools and middle schools already have assigned school resource officers, who are official deputies with the Sheriff’s Department, and report to a school on a daily basis. The letter also said Isle of Wight County Schools has arrangements in place with local law enforcement agencies to have officers check on the division’s elementary schools every day as well. DeGroft later clarified to The Tidewater News that he was speaking mainly about the lack of full-day SROs stationed at the county’s elementary schools, and there being only one SRO for Windsor, who divides his time between the middle school and high school.

At the school board meeting, Thornton said he was uncertain whether more SROs would help prevent another mass shooting.

“One of the things they [the high school students who contributed to the security recommendations] shared, and I didn’t fact check it but I think it’s pretty accurate, there is no case of a school shooting where a resource officer has stopped the shooting,” he said.

“And definitely not armed teachers, ever,” added Windsor District school board member Julia Perkins.

Lynn Briggs, the division’s director of community and media relations, said that because the Board of Supervisors has not yet approved Thornton’s funding request, there is no timetable for the implementation of the new security measures but, if approved, it would be a priority.