The Loudoun County School Board’s Student Support & Services Committee today got an update on school security on the work that will continue throughout the summer to improve school security.
The updates apply to both physical changes at the school buildings—in the form of building security vestibules at all 92 schools—as well as policy changes. School security has been under the spotlight in recent months after incidents that caused parents to call for a full review of security practices and staff guidelines.
“We are getting more emails from parents [about school security],” School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said during the committee meeting.
Brian Stocks, director of management and coordination for the school district’s Department of Support Services, said that progress will continue moving forward during the summer break to update the School Board’s strategic actions on school security to bring the policies up to date. He noted that all school employees will complete safety protocol and other training exercises. The school system also is developing a reporting structure to track the performance of that training to make sure that it’s working.
Stocks also mentioned two new staff members that are joining the central office in July—John Clark, who will serve as director of safety and security, and Rob Doolittle as director of communications and community outreach. Both are new positions.
A former senior executive with the United States Secret Service, Clark also led its Criminal Investigative Division and Dignity Protective Division and served in its Presidential Protective Division.
Regarding the School Board strategic action, the staff is proposing to expand the definition from “student safety” to “safety and security” while expanding a section that states “All LCPS employees will complete school safety protocol,” to more expansive wording that seeks to “increase training and physical security support to students through the development of resources and staff to support consistent school safety practices.” Stocks explained that much of the details and documentation to support the strategic action is also part of the staff’s ongoing work.
Rose asked staff members to look into how the school system can better use technology to communicate with parents—and students involved in an active situation in particular—during a lockdown. There are college campuses and other schools that have faced tragedies with notification systems in place where students are able to get updates on their phones, she added. In such circumstances involving an active shooter, the initial reaction of parents can make the situation worse for police and emergency responders.
“As parents, we all want to go to the school and get our kid,” she said, but in an active situation, “obviously, that’s not a good thing.”
Stocks responded staff are considering “utilizing technology to better inform parents and students,” and research has already started into various communications tools and two-way communications options.
One complaint that Rose has heard from parents—and experienced herself—is not being checked at the door during special school events. While a photo ID is required to enter the school, no IDs are checked during special events that involve many parents coming into the school all at once.
“You’re supposed to ask me why I’m here,” she said she told the school employee watching the door after not getting checked when entering a school one day. “That really goes to whoever is manning the door just letting people in.”
After School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) asked about systems that notify school administrators and the central school adminstration office if a door is left open at a school—some schools already have this technology in place—School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said school system staff should capture all of the work that’s being done, including the vestibules and other physical security changes, as part of the strategic policy update.
Marshall closed the committee’s security update by saying that the school system needs to “do everything we need to do to protect our kids in schools.”
One of the hardest problems for any school system regarding security is the danger from within. “The biggest threat to student safety is other students,” Rose said.