Security grants to help with school safety

By Josette Keelor

School districts in Shenandoah, Frederick and Clarke counties will have greater security measures at schools as a result of grant money awarded by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Established by the 2013 General Assembly in the aftermath of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the School Security Equipment Grant program will allow for security upgrades in 373 Virginia schools and other buildings, according to a news release.

Shenandoah County was approved for $54,589, Frederick for $4,562 and Clarke for $67,223. Each district has agreed to kick in 25 percent matching dollars.

At Shenandoah schools, security door lock systems added to elementary and high schools this summer reduce entry points for employees during the course of the day, said Superintendent Jeremy Raley.

“Each employee will be provided with a card. The card is their badge, also,” he said.

The cards track “who is in and who is not in the building,” he said.

The School Board paid for upgrades through its Capital Improvement Fund, and Raley said having close to an additional $55K will offset the cost and allow for more improvements later.

“We’ve worked hard in the last 18 months … but there are still additional needs,” he said.

Clarke and Frederick counties plan upgrades during the current school year.

In its grant request, Clarke County identified visitor badge systems at middle and elementary schools, two-way radios, cameras and stronger entrance security. The district requested $89K for improvements, according to Superintendent Chuck Bishop, and with matching funds has almost reached that goal.

Frederick County applied for $100K for security cameras at middle schools and the Middle School Alternative Program at Dowell J. Howard School in Winchester, and electronic access entrances at schools, according to Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for schools.

“We only got a little over $4,500,” he said.

Last year’s grant awarded the district a little over $34,000, which was used to install a new buzz-in entry system at elementary schools and at Northwestern Regional Education Programs, located at the Senseny Road School.

Districts qualified for grant money based on those deemed most in need of modern security equipment, schools with relatively high numbers of offenses and those with equipment needs identified by a school security audit.

“As far as how the state divvied the money up, I have no idea,” Edwards said.

Warren County, which did not receive grant money this year, already requires visitors to buzz in for entry to schools and uses electronic visitor badge systems with photo identification capacity.

Bishop, who joined Clarke County schools this summer, said security in the Northern Shenandoah Valley is “far ahead” of what it was in his previous district of Augusta County.

Still, he said, “I think we always have to be as proactive as we can be. You never know when you’re going to have an incident.”

Edwards agreed, saying vigilance is important no matter how secure schools are. The “human element” is a necessary addition to what security cameras offer, and individuals who learn of a plan to harm anyone at school should notify an adult as soon as possible.

“There’s no one thing that can be done necessarily to ensure the safety and security of a school. It’s a multifaceted approach,” Edwards said.

“You do your best on a daily basis …, but I don’t think you ever get to the point where you can say unequivocally that nothing can happen in our schools. But we work hard on a daily basis to make sure that nothing happens.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or