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Middle schools to add door card readers

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK -- Middle schools in Shenandoah County are hoping to increase student safety when they add an electronic access control system to their doors this spring.

Deborah Litten, student services supervisor and emergency manager for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said that although doors other than the front entrance are kept locked, they could be opened by anyone with a duplicate key.

"Right now, I can't tell you honestly who has keys to the doors at any of the schools," she said at a Thursday night school board meeting. "Because I don't know where they are. And that is our next initiative. We want to get a better control of who has keys and access and we want to go to an electronic access system."

Litten said the doors wouldn't be replaced, but a device with sensors would be installed to designated doors leading outside. She said the system would keep a log of who entered the building at what times.

"The beauty of the card swipe is I can give you a card that pinpoints exactly the day and time that you get in," she said. "You can get in Saturday from 2 to 4 and then it becomes deactivated.

"Think of it like a hotel room card. They can activate it at the front desk when the guest comes in, though it depends on the card system and card reader as to how fine-tuned it can be."

School division officials will meet with companies next week to gather bids and learn more about the different types of systems available.

"We have to talk to several companies and pick the one that best fits our needs," Litten said. "That's when we'll get the cost."

The access system is funded though a $43,704 school security equipment grant awarded from the commonwealth last summer. Litten said the division has until March 1 to spend the grant money on the materials.

She said the county's three middle schools would test the system first before phasing it to other schools.

The card readers join a list of other safety features implemented by Shenandoah County schools, such as security cameras, vehicle decals, identification badges, panic alarms, school resource officers in every school and training from the sheriff's office on recognizing suspicious mail and people.

Threat assessment teams, including school administrators, school resource officers and guidance counselors, will be trained on Jan. 27 and March 31 to learn more about mental health and how to identify students who might be at risk for suicide or violent behaviors.

"So many of the school shootings and events, after they do research on the perpetrator, there are all these red flags," Litten said. "The threat assessment teams will be trained to look for those red flags."

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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