RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the wake of school shooting incidents in other parts of the country, local leaders in the security industry are revisiting best practices for keeping students and staff safe.
In the Commonwealth, there are minimum requirements that school divisions must meet, as laid out in the Code of Virginia, when it comes to security. The list is developed by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) Center for School and Campus Safety, in consultation with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
“Schools are required to have certified crisis management plans updated every year, and certified to DCJS, the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, by August 31 of every year,” Director Donna Michaelis said. “They’re also required to do a school security walk-through, using a checklist that has been modeled after the one that we have put out there, and they have to do that and certify to us every three years by August 31.”
The most recent iteration of the checklist includes information on best practices for the use of fences, gates, lighting, surveillance cameras, landscaping and visibility, signage and entrances, doors, windows and key control, among others. However, Michaelis noted that there is not a minimum requirement for certain security devices in schools.
“While we don’t have numbers of cameras and, of course, cameras and security play a role in that, but it’s really relationships that make the difference, and that’s where, again, Virginia is leading the way,” she said. “We have threat assessment teams required in all K through 12 schools, and that is a mixture of the school administration, instruction, counseling and law enforcement.”
Below is a list of the reports and requirements for school security as published by VDOE:
|Requirement||Code of Virginia||Responsible Party(ies)||Completion Timeframe||Data Collection Venue|
|Designate a Divisionwide Emergency Manager||§ 22.1-279.8||Superintendent||Annually||VA School Safety|
|Appoint a Divisionwide Safety Audit** Committee||§ 22.1-279.8||Superintendent||Annually||None|
|Establish Threat Assessment Team(s)||§ 9.1-184.A.10|
|Superintendent||Annually||DCJS-VA Center for School and Campus Safety|
|Update the school crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plan and verify||§ 22.1-279.8||Principals|
|Annually||DCJS-VA Center for School and Campus Safety|
|Conduct school safety building inspection walk-through||§ 22.1-279.8||Principals|
|Once every three years starting in 2014||VA School Safety Survey|
|School safety building inspection verification||§ 22.1-279.8||Principals|
|Annually||DCJS-VA Center for School and Campus Safety|
|Complete the School Safety Audit Survey||§ 22.1-279.8||Principal|
|Annually||VA School Safety|
|Complete the Virginia Secondary School Climate Survey (students and faculty)||§ 22.1-279.8||Middle and High School Principals||Annually by selected grade level(s)||VA Secondary School Climate|
|Complete the Division Level Safety Audit Survey||§ 22.1-279.8||Superintendent||Once every three years||VA School Safety|
|Complete the School Safety Audit Written Assessment Template||§ 22.1-279.8.||Principals|
|Annually by December 31 beginning 2016||School Safety Audit Written Assessment Template|
|Complete the Division Level Safety Audit Written Assessment||§ 22.1-279.8.||Division Safety Audit Committee Superintendent||Annually by August 31 beginning 2017||Division Safety Audit Written Assessment|
“The requirements that I just mentioned are for all schools — are for all K through 12 schools. In fact, they just passed legislation this year, House Bill 741, that requires detailed and accurate floorplans for all schools,” Michaelis said. “Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Center put forward $6.5 million to help schools digitize their floorplans.”
She noted that the goal of this digitization would be to share the floorplans with local law enforcement to help familiarize themselves with school buildings, so that they are prepared to respond and do so quickly in case of an emergency.
Below, check out the security measures and programs that are currently in place at schools across the following localities in the Richmond metropolitan area.
In Chesterfield County, surveillance cameras are visible from the exterior of many of the school buildings. In June, the School Board received an Operations/Security Department update, which included information on the physical security equipment employed in the educational buildings.
According to the presentation, access control equipment, such as key card readers, have been installed in all schools, allowing 24/7 access to credentialed law enforcement and members of the Parks and Recreation Department. The presentation also noted that IP camera systems are currently installed at all middle and high schools in the school division. Moseley Elementary School’s camera systems were under construction at the time of the presentation, and the remaining 16 elementary schools will have their camera systems projects completed by July.
Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) also employs security features that aren’t visible from the exterior, such as the RAVE Emergency Phone App. According to the June presentation before the School Board, 685 staff member profiles have been established, using mass notification software for critical communication.
Moreover, the school division is installing new security vestibules in middle and high schools. The process is reportedly beginning in the high schools this summer, to build secure entryways that limit access into the main portion of educational buildings for non-staff and students.
Safety and security spending for each school division and government is broken down differently in various localities. In CCPS, for example, a spokesperson said that their Central Security Department has an operating budget of $2,094,785 which handles the daily security at each of its facilities. CCPS has committed approximately $805,000 since FY2020 toward the implementation of the RAVE app. Additionally, the school division has a number of Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) projects tied to security:
- School CCTV- $7,825,536.24 obligated since FY2022
- Key/Access Control- $2,495,000 obligated since FY2021
- Centralized Security- $3,335,090.49 obligated since FY2016
Meanwhile, at the Chesterfield County Government Complex, surveillance cameras were visible outside several of the buildings. 8News also observed key card access readers to unlock doors. However, not all of the doors were locked to begin with during business hours.
A spokesperson for the county told 8News that they spend approximately $200,000 annually to maintain and upgrade security systems in its facilities.
“Chesterfield takes security in county facilities very seriously and is committed to implementing the necessary procedures and precautions for the safety of our employees.” the spokesperson said. “That is why we utilize a wide range of security measures in county buildings, including the use of employee security badges and various alarm and video equipment, to name a few.”
At Hanover County Public Schools, Assistant Superintendent of Community Engagement and Legislative Affairs Chris Whitley said the division has invested in security enhancements such as installing additional security cameras in the schools, installing a new visitor management system at every school, installing vestibules to control entry into the school buildings, and upgrading locking systems.
Whitley noted that the school division does have active monitoring capabilities for its cameras.
“The safety of our students and staff has been and will always remain our top priority. It is our focus and way of living each and every day in our schools. To that end, we take a very serious and deliberate approach to our school safety and security efforts,” Whitley said in a statement to 8News. “These efforts have been ongoing for decades, specifically post-Columbine in 1999.”
In FY2023, documents show that Hanover County Public Schools budgeted $6,951 for security services for the School Board. According to Whitley, that funding is being used to pay for Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deputies to be in attendance at School Board meetings.
“This has been ongoing for many years,” he said. “In addition to this, there are other areas included in our budget each year ($65,400 in FY2023) that allow our Emergency Manager to provide for the necessary and ongoing safety and security needs of our facilities and related programs. We have also continued to regularly pursue and have been the recipient of state grant funding to specifically update the safety and security functionality in our buildings.”
In its government buildings, Hanover County employs a similar security tactic, having sheriff’s deputies in attendance at Board of Supervisors meetings.
A spokesperson said that all buildings have card reader access, with exterior doors locking and unlocking at set times, while card keys are still required to get into specific offices. Surveillance cameras are also set up throughout the parking lots and in some buildings, but they are not actively monitored. Moreover, Hanover County has safe rooms in some of its buildings, which can be locked down in the event of an emergency.
Earlier this month, Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Amy Cashwell presented information to the Board of Supervisors on supporting and maintaining safe schools. According to the presentation, the school division employs several safety measures throughout its educational buildings:
- School and campus safety audits
- School Resource Officers
- School Security Officers
- Security cameras
- Access control systems
- Vestibule entryways
- Camera and buzz-in systems
- Enhanced visitor sign-in requiring a photo ID
- Emergency radios
- Monitored intrusion alarm systems
- Threat assessment teams
- Crisis response teams
- Handle with Care program
- Anonymous Alert
- Rapid notification system
- Policies, regulations, Code of Conduct
Cashwell also noted that the school division is expanding its security camera systems.
8News is still working to get information on how much the school division spends on safety and security measures.
Over in the Western Government Complex, security cameras and callboxes are visible from the exterior of many buildings, with more features seemingly centered around the law enforcement part of the complex.
“For safety reasons, we are not able to discuss our security measures,” a county spokesperson told 8News. “For budgeting purposes, we do not categorize ‘security measures.’ The budgeted costs for those measures are incorporated elsewhere.”
City of Richmond
In the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) division, security cameras were visible on the exterior of many buildings. The doors that 8News tested were locked, as well, staying true to the best practices laid out by DCJS and VDOE.
“All RPS buildings are always locked and there is a single point of entry with a doorbell and security camera for visitors to enter the building. Outside of that, we keep our security practices private,” a spokesperson for the school division said. “All five comprehensive high schools have metal detectors at their main entrance.”
According to budget documents, RPS allocated $1,374,320 for Safety and Security Services in FY23. That was a decrease from the amount budgeted in FY22, which was $1,256,241. However, that figure includes more than security technology installed in the school division’s buildings. Budget documents show that Safety and Security Services encompasses non-professional services, materials/supplies, printing and binding, staff development, travel, additional equipment, service contracts, and salaries and benefits for those who work in this area of focus. 8News is still working to get more specific information on RPS’ security expenditures.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s City Hall goes above the minimum standards set forth and visible in many local schools. There are armed security personnel at the doors, a metal detector, card key access, and sign-in requirements. The elevators within the building also function in such a way that requires visitors to have an escort, and only allows them to go down to the first floor after leaving from an upper floor without card access.
In light of recent events, such as fatal shootings in communities and schools across the nation, longtime security consultant and five-time police chief Michael A. Jones told 8News that inquiries for his consulting firm have quadrupled in the last three weeks.
“Both schools and government facilities, and private facilities, are taking a new look at an old problem,” he said. “There’s a whole series of schools, ranging from being built and designed in the ’50s to being built and designed today. The ’50s design, which was block and brick, fell out of favor. But now, it’s back in favor because it’s bullet-resistant material.”
Jones works with several of the local governments in Central Virginia on their security practices, as well as assisting school divisions in other parts of the state.
“The school system has some very basic minimums: locked doors, have vestibules that have CCTV, and access card control, as well as visitors sign in and out, and signage that says ‘No Trespassing,'” he said. “The security is truly minimum. So what is happening now, people are opting to work with consultants like myself to design above minimum standards.”
Jones said that employing technology is key, but that school divisions and local governments cannot ignore the human element, either.
“Most of us are not trained in dealing with an active shooter. So the more automated equipment we get that doesn’t have the emotional aspect, the quicker we can concentrate on what we need to do, as humans, to protect,” he said. “What’s safer is a group of people who are determined to make these facilities safe, all while making sure that the users can actually get in and do the job.”
In recent weeks, Jones noted that schools and governments have been reaching out to see how they can improve their security. Specifically in Virginia’s schools, DCJS does not have the authority to enforce minimum standards. But Michaelis said that compliance, which is in the hands of local school boards, has never been an issue.
“Even though there has been national news and, what seems like every other day, we hear about a gun on school campus, schools are still an extremely safe place to be, safer than in our community most times,” she said. “All of the statistics nationwide and in Virginia bear that out, that schools are a safe place to be.”