Sunday, July 21, 2024

Remember that Blue Ribbon panel in April to address school safety? Here are their recommendations

VIRGINIA BEACH — In April, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence called for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Panel on School Safety and Security to analyze the school division’s safety procedures, infrastructure and practices.

The panel was to identify the division’s current best practices and also potential areas of improvement. In addition to school personnel, officers from Naval Air Station Oceana and representatives from the Virginia Beach Police Department are included on the panel.

After a thorough review of data from two community meetings, an online town hall, school tours and staff interviews, the panel presented its 11 recommendations to the School Board as part of the board’s summer retreat, according to a news release from VBCPS.

“This panel did an outstanding job of ensuring they had a clear and full understanding of all our security and safety measures in our schools,” Spence said. “Their discussions and insight were extraordinarily meaningful as they took great stock in making sure every report and recommendation reflected our strengths and needs as a division.

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Overall, the panel reported VBCPS has a strong safety plan in place, and it echoed comments received from the community during the input process, including praising the division’s emergency preparedness and response; the visitor check-in procedure; and keeping the community informed through the division’s Alert Now system. The panel also cited the division’s strong partnership with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

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For its recommendations, the panel used the same three overarching areas on which the House Select Committee on School Safety is focused: (1) Safety protocols, emergency preparedness, and response; (2) Safety infrastructure and personnel; and, (3) behavior and mental health.

The panel brought forward the following recommendations:

Safety protocols, emergency preparedness, and response

  • Refine and expand training exercise with regards to emergency procedures.
  • Implement a robust system of preventative security (conducting more frequent checks of access points and regular lighting and camera surveys).
  • Conduct more frequent and unannounced safety audits
  • Strengthen procedures for controlling access into and within the school facility.

Safety infrastructure and personnel

  • Reevaluate the security personnel program (reevaluating the job description, hiring process, evaluation of security personnel and identifying appropriate training).
  • Strengthen infrastructure for controlling access to school sites (buildings and grounds; including security desk location and associated equipment).
  • Evaluate and increase the use and location of cameras and sensors.
  • Strengthen infrastructure for securing classrooms.

Behavior and mental health

  • Increase behavior and mental health staff available to students to aid in early identification and support of students exhibiting mental health needs.
  • Increase mental health awareness through training for all staff and stakeholders.
  • Increase community engagement and collaboration with partner agencies.

School administration will develop, implement and expand immediate and long-term training protocol. In addition, the chief operations officer and chief academic officer will reallocate and/or accelerate the use of existing resources where appropriate (e.g., the implementation of the new buzz-in locking system to be completed by December, redefining or expanding expectations for mental health personnel and training for security personnel).

The progress on this work will be documented and reported to the community on an ongoing basis on

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