School safety talks con­tinue

Speaker of the House Kirk Cox vis­its CHHS over safety is­sues

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By John Adam Staff Writer

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.

[JOHN ADAM/PROGRESS-IN­DEX.COM]

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....

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