VIRGINIA BEACH VA
More practice for handling emergencies. Securing school entrances. Increased mental health staffing.
Those are some of the 11 recommendations from a group that met over the past few months to evaluate security within Virginia Beach’s school system.
The panel of police, city, Navy and school personnel was created in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Its goal was to examine the division’s measures to protect students and staff, find gaps and assess what might be needed. Members of the panel visited schools and solicited ideas from the community.
The group found that the division could strengthen areas where people enter buildings – such as the front desk – and re-evaluate the way security personnel are hired and trained.
Police Chief Jim Cervera, who served on the panel, said needs at entry points are different than they were years ago. Staffers now must be able to prepare for emergencies and look out for potential threats.
“It’s a little bit of a mind-set change,” Cervera said.
For safety protocols, the ideas included expanding emergency procedure training and holding more unannounced reviews. Division Superintendent Aaron Spence said that might mean preparing students and staff for the potential of a bomb threat and active shooter at the same time, not just as two separate incidents.
Increased mental health staffing also was recommended. The division already has psychologists, counselors and clinicians in place. But Spence acknowledged he’d like to have more.
“Provide the best possible resources for our students in crisis,” Spence said.
The division is taking steps to address some of the panel’s findings. It intends to have a buzzer system in place at the entrance of every school by December. The groundwork for that began this summer. The 2018-19 budget also adds four behavior intervention specialists, Spence said.
The recommendations were released at a School Board planning meeting Tuesday. Spence said he was pleased to hear that the panel thought his schools are safe.
He added that work is already under way to implement some recommendations and see how others might become reality.