School safety talks continue
Speaker of the House Kirk Cox visits CHHS over safety issues
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — School safety continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the General Assembly. Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) visited Colonial Heights High School on Monday, to learn about the school’s safety procedures and concerns. In the wake of the school shooting that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February, Cox set up a select committee within the House of Delegates that will look specifically at school safety.
Cox’s visit comes just several days after delegates Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell) and Luke Torian (D-Prince William), visited Hopewell High School and Petersburg High School to learn about safety procedures and concerns at those schools.
With delegates visiting schools across the commonwealth, Cox is hoping that a list of “best practices” can
be established, and be turned into legislation for next year’s session of the General Assembly.
“For a lot of schools this size, they do some really smart things,” he said. “So what we’re hoping to do is learn about those things from each school system.”
Colonial Heights School Board members Mike Yates and Angie Woody, along with Schools Superintendent Joseph Cox, joined Cox as CHHS Principal Kristen Janssen showed some of the security features at the high school.
The front door to the building is manned during all hours by a security desk. Each visitor has to be let in to the building, and sign in at the security desk, where they are given an ID sticker. Staff and students at the school have special ID cards as well.
There are cameras at numerous points in the building, which are monitored by staff.
There are also several “panic buttons” in various locations around the school, which can be pressed in case of an immediate emergency. If one of the buttons is pressed, a call goes directly to Colonial Heights police.
In addition to the security features, each Colonial Heights school has an armed School Resource Officer. Colonial Heights police Sgt. Renee Walters is in charge of the SROs. Walters said that in addition to the SROs, cops out on patrol will do occasional checks outside school buildings during the day.
A recent security layer that was added to the high school was the hiring of a school psychiatrist, who can address issues stemming from mental health.
“As times change, we’re not just concerned about [the students] safety at schools, but we’re concerned about their safety at home as well,” said Walters.
The administrators also talked at length about the strong relationship the school system has with the police department, and how that has made a big difference in keeping the schools safe.
“I think they thought of a lot of small details,” said Cox. “I love the committee process they have of making sure all the staff has input.”
Janssen said that the School Board and city government have been helpful in helping fund the security measures the school system thinks it needs.
“From a principal’s perspective, money still needs to be available to schools so we can continue to have a safe and secure environment for our kids,” she said.
Cox said he was “impressed” with the security features at the high school.
“They’ve done a great combination of keeping a secure, safe campus, and still making sure it’s a campus,” said Cox. “It’s still a place where students feel like they’re at home, but it’s not onerous, and you don’t feel weighed down.”
Funding is an issue with making sure that Virginia schools are secure from threats. Cox said one possible option that the select committee will look into is a grant program, where school districts can apply for funds. Cox said that grants would enable school districts to enact security measures tailored to their needs.
“The grant process seems to work well,” he said. “For [Colonial Heights] a certain thing may work, but for a Northern Virginia school, they might want to go in another direction.”
The select committee plans on creating a website to receive more input on the issue, and to continue to engage with security experts before the 2019 session of the General Assembly.
Left to right, Del. Kirk Cox, Colonial Heights Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Cox, School Board Chairman Mike Yates, Assistant Superintendent Troy Hedblom, Colonial Heights High School Principal Kristin Janssen, and Colonial Heights Police Sgt. Renee Walters talk about the security measures at Colonial Heights High School on Monday.