What are the security measures at your child's school?

aheymann@vagazette.com

The School Board’s increased interest in school security is a response to the local and national uptick in school violence.

In March, a 13-year-old Toano Middle School student used social media to threaten to harm other students at the school. After consulting with James City County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, the boy, an eighth-grade student, was taken into custody, according to James City County deputy police Chief Steve Rubino. He has since been released.

“James City County Police Department takes all threats to schools seriously and works in partnership with schools to investigate information received and threats made,” according to a police department news release.

With events such as this and the shooting in Parkland, Fla., at the forefront of parents’ minds, many want to know about security at Williamsburg James City County Public Schools.

Security staffing

Two kinds of officers work in W-JCC Schools: security officers and school resource officers.

James City County and Williamsburg police departments assign resource officers to schools and they are the only security personnel who carry guns, according to Jeffery Carroll, assistant superintendent for school leadership.

James City County supplies officers at all three high schools as well as Toano and Hornsby middle schools; Williamsburg supplies an officer for Berkeley Middle School and will staff James Blair Middle School in the fall.

At the April 9 Williamsburg City Council meeting, Police Chief Sean Dunn made a case to have a full-time officer at Berkeley and a second one at James Blair. Marvin Collins, Williamsburg city manager, also proposed making this change to the budget at the meeting.

While resource officers work for police departments, school security officers are W-JCC employees, hired by the division to work in the schools. There are three in each high school, but none in middle or elementary schools.

But that may be about to change.

At the April 9 Williamsburg City Council meeting, police Chief Sean Dunn made a case to have a full-time officer at Berkeley and a second one at James Blair. Marvin Collins, Williamsburg city manager, also proposed making this change to the budget at the meeting.

While resource officers work for police departments, school security officers are W-JCC employees, hired by the division to work in the schools. There are three in each high school, but none in middle or elementary schools.

All security and resource officers work to build relationships with students and learn about what is going on inside the school, said Betsy Overkamp-Smith, W-JCC spokeswoman. Security officers, according to Brian Weaver, the security and energy education specialist overseeing utility use and efficiency for W-JCC, patrol the buildings and grounds, maintain security around buses and in school parking lots, obtain warrants and petitions for individuals involved in illegal activities on school property and respond to potential threats to students and staff.

Carroll emphasized that while security officers work with school administrators, they do not discipline students. He said officers work under the authority of the building’s principal/

The main difference between school resource officers and security officers, according to Carroll, is resource officers are fully-trained police officers.

Sgt. Keith Campbell, head of the school resource unit for James City County Police, said resource officers go through specific training through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services for several days before working in schools.

Security officers go through an initial training with the DCJS, followed by another two-day course and a final W-JCC nonviolent crisis intervention training program. Every two years officers must take 16-hours of recertification classes, Weaver said.

While elementary schools have no assigned security staff, Weaver said James City has a community services unit and every officer in it has two schools assigned to him or her, which they frequently visit. Campbell said school resource officers working in middle schools sometimes visit elementary schools, and if an elementary school requests an officer for an open house night or any other reason, he said the department provides one.

“The elementary schools are considered feeder schools for the middle schools … so children that go to certain elementary schools will eventually end up in a certain middle school,” Campbell said. “So, while there are no full-time school resource officers in the elementary schools, they do frequently have a presence by school resource officers and community services officers.

“We work closely with the administration of the elementary schools as well, not just middle and high schools.”

Building protocol

During the school day, most school entrances and exits are locked. To get into a school, parents and others need to be buzzed in and then must report to the main office, according to Weaver.

Once someone is in the office, they are vetted as to why they are in the school. Weaver said at no point is a parent allowed into the building. But Overkamp-Smith said exceptions are made if the visit is purposeful, such as to attend an event or to meet with a teacher. Even then, parents must follow check-in/check-out procedures.

For routine visits, such as an early dismissal, the student is called to the office; if the parent wants to drop off a lunch or homework, the student must collect it at the main office.

Some elementary schools use the Ident-A-Kid program. Overkamp-Smith said this gives elementary schools a record of who is in the school and why. This is not used for students, but rather guests entering the building. The Ident-A-Kid visitor management system gives visitors a label with a photo ID and a reason why they are visiting.

Overkamp-Smith said using Ident-a-Kid is a choice some schools have made, and the guest check-in and check-out processes vary slightly at each school given the configuration of front offices and staff location. However, Overkamp-Smith said at every school, visitors are required to check in and out and follow that school’s specific procedures.

Security cameras are also installed in all division schools. Weaver said W-JCC does not have anyone assigned to look at the security cameras full time, and they are typically used “after the fact.”

However, Weaver said he has access to all school security cameras. Carroll said at high schools, security officers will monitor the cameras throughout the day. He said the practice is to have one of the officers is looking at the cameras regularly.

Overkamp-Smith said schools hold safety drills throughout the year in partnership with local police and fire departments. She said the district tries to learn the most they can from each drill. A debriefing session is held after each drill and the school gets advice on how to improve. For example, law enforcement might suggest a better area in the classroom to hide.

Dates of emergency drills are not released in advance. The Virginia Department of Education requires every school to conduct two lockdown drills during the first 20 days of school, with one in September. During the rest of the year, schools must conduct two more drills, with one in January.

Looking ahead

Next year’s proposed school budget includes paying security officers to operate walk-through metal detectors. Overkamp-Smith said these detectors would be mobile and, like metal-detecting wands, primarily used for heavily attended sports event.

“They will be used for many purposes,” Overkamp-Smith said. “There are currently no plans for the detectors to be used every day at student arrival.”

Carroll said the school district is doing everything it can to make sure children in W-JCC are protected.

“School safety is our most important priority and we take it very seriously,” Carroll said. “That relationship with our families to care for their children every day, whether it's around security measures or building relationships and taking care of their children as though the way any parent would take care of their child, that is our goal every day.”

Want to learn more?

To learn more about W-JCC’s crisis planning, visit wjccschools.org/about-wjcc/emergency-crisis-planning.

Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at aheymann@dailypress.com, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.

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