Monday, December 11, 2023

Here’s what you need to know about school security in Virginia Beach

Plaza Middle School in Virginia Beach. (Southside Daily/courtesy of Google street view)
Plaza Middle School in Virginia Beach. (Southside Daily/courtesy of Google street view)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The 2019-2020 school year is just a few weeks away and with it comes new school security updates based on recommendations given by the Blue Ribbon Panel in June 2018.

After securing more than $1 million in reversion funding to enact the security upgrades, the school district will go into the upcoming year will new policies and procedures aimed at keeping students safe.

The Blue Ribbon Panel made a series of suggestions to the school division based on the three overarching areas Virginia Beach Public Schools security system is based on:

  • Safety protocols, emergency preparedness, and response.
  • Safety infrastructure and personnel.
  • Behavior and mental health.

Those updates, coupled with a full-scale active shooter exercise at North Landing Elementary School on March 30 have left Superintendent Aaron Spence confident with how the school district is tackling student safety when asked back in June — after the May 31 mass shooting.

RELATED STORY: Here’s how the school district is tackling grief in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting 

Spence was not immediately available to provide another safety update ahead of the new school year.

The recommendations and subsequent actions on those recommendations were presented at a School Board meeting on June 10 by John Freeman, chief operations officer in the department of School Division Services.

Freeman said he felt confident about the updates even more so after the mass shooting on May 31.

“The safety and security of our schools has been and will continue to be a top priority,” Freeman said.

He said since the presentation was so close to the May 31 mass shooting, he hoped School Board members would look at the updates through a different lens.

“We have taken a proactive look, asking ourselves what can we do today and every day to be better prepared,” Freeman said.

The recommendation updates were divided into two presentations: Safe Schools and Behavioral and Mental Health Recommendations.

Safe Schools

Thomas DeMartini, director of Safe Schools, presented several upgrades both inside and out of the schools in the district that were done over the summer.

Those include:

  • Refining security protocols and expanding training by adding tabletop exercises, reviewing emergency response plans and updating division-wide radio communications procedures.
  • Implementing preventative security measures which includes 2,957 security cameras and 366 access controls division-wide along with adding a mobile application for select school officials to monitor the schools remotely.
  • Conducting school safety audits.
  • Adding electronic buzzing systems to all 86 schools across the division; evaluating and then moving security desks to better locations; updating entrance access protocols.
  • Reevaluating security personnel by adding more training, adding working days and four more security officers to extend coverage 24/7.
  • Adding fencing improvements to 37 elementary schools.
  • Assessing camera coverage and updating equipment.
  • Strengthening infrastructure for security classrooms by keeping the doors in locked position and having teachers design innovative ways to cover windows.

All of those updates and changes were done according to recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Panel, DeMartini said.

Funding for those projects came from $1 million in reversion funds, a school equipment grant of $91,700 with a local match of $23,000 and a Community Oriented Policing Services grant of $515,000, according to documents provided by VBCPS.

Behavior and Mental Health

In addition to tackling the physical safety of the students, the Blue Panel recommendations covered ways to help students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Kipp Rogers, chief academic officer in the department of Teaching and Learning, was able to report on the initiatives recommended.

“Multiple departments, including departments of school division services, school leadership as well as teaching and learning worked together to enhance the supports provided to students,” Rogers said.

Five new full-time school psychologist positions were added to the staff as well as eight new full time behavior intervention specialists and about 15 full time elementary school counselor positions were added, he said.

VBCPS also trained its staff and faculty on mental health awareness, how to refer students to community partners, how to tackle school bullying and how to recognize when a student needs help, Rogers added.

To learn more about Virginia Beach City Public Schools ahead of the new school year, click here.

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