Walking into an Albemarle County school, a parent may notice new security measures. Although some are subtle, others, like a new identification scanning system, are hard to miss. In an era in which deranged gunmen have been known to target school children, local administrators say they are working to make sure students and teachers are as safe as possible.
In early September, Governor Terry McAuliffe awarded $6 million in school security equipment grants to schools across the commonwealth, and Albemarle County received $83,914. The funds will go to upgrading security cameras at the three high schools—Albemarle, Western Albemarle and Monticello—and to making improvements to classroom doors at Brownsville, Hollymead, Stony Point and Woodbrook elementary schools, according to county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita.
“In the elementary schools, we are expanding a program that began last year—improving locks on classroom doors and installing protective film on classroom door windows,” Giaramita says in an e-mail. “Both of these measures increase the difficulty of an intruder being able to enter a classroom.”
Lindsay Snoddy, assistant director of building services for environmental, health and safety for the school district, says the button locks are an extra protection for teachers or administrators.
“It makes it easier for teachers to lock down, if they are in that situation,” she explains. “It just takes out that one extra step of needing to know where your key is and having it on your person.”
The emphasis on efficiency and a quick response is central to this new technology shift, and Snoddy says the new security measures were carefully selected. The district keeps an eye on what area schools are doing, and it runs a pilot program before instituting a new initiative district-wide.
One new security measure, the identification-scanning system, is becoming operational at all schools, but is not part of the state funding, Giaramita says.
The system asks visitors to provide a government-issued identification. Then their name is run through the sexual offenders database to make sure the visitor isn’t prohibited from entering the school.
Crystal Myers has children who attend an elementary school in the district. She says she is onboard with all the changes being implemented, and she believes the ID scanning is beneficial.
“I think it’s important that the school systems remain up to date with safety,” Myers says. “You want to know who is sitting next to your child at lunch.”
Others, such as former school board member Gary Grant, have raised questions about the program and how undocumented parents—who may be in the country illegally—will be able to gain access to schools.
Snoddy says there are different ways a parent can enter, such as with a Social Security card or military or work ID. She also says if the visitor is known to the office staff and can answer a series of questions about the child, then access will be granted.
In all, the school district says it has gotten positive feedback about the new safety measures. Snoddy says the district has received this type of state funding for the past four years and has continued to improve its safety system.