If there's one thing that is certain, James McLain is a secure man. The Fairfax County Public Schools coordinator for security talked frankly about security in the schools, but also listened to concerns from those gathered at Mount Vernon High School.
About 50 people heard him talk about Shelter in Place, smallpox immunization; lock down and other emergency plans. Lt. Paul Thornton was there as well. He serves as the Fairfax County Police school liaison commander.
Then the questions began. Jane Gottardi was there with her young daughter and had several concerns. She feels that the county is not doing enough. Although McLain continually stresses that Shelter in Place situations are very temporary, Gottardi thinks that the schools should start keeping a set of clothes and food for every child.
She thinks that FCPS needs to do a better job of telling adults to stay home and that the school recording should be updated as soon as there is a crises. Another concern of hers is that there will be teachers who won’t be prepared for an emergency.
McLain addressed her concerns by saying that FCPS is ahead of most other counties in the country. They are training the administrators and fully expect that the teachers will rise to the occasion and follow the emergency procedures as they unfold.
ON THE OTHER SIDE, both a mother of a teacher and some teachers themselves questioned how long they would have to stay at school during a crisis. One of the things that McLain repeatedly stresses to parents is that the schools will keep their children until they can get to them. This concerns teachers who are concerned about leaving to get to their own children. McLain said that they would not all have to stay, because schools would most likely be covered by administrators for the few parents who are stuck in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere.
A point was made that some parents can’t drive to the school and rely on school buses to get their children home. This gets complicated because you don’t want to drop children off at empty homes, but don’t want them waiting for parents who aren’t going to come.
MCLAIN AND THORNTON stressed that it was important to listen to the local media. They said that most stations are pretty good about getting emergency information aired quickly. Parents can listen to these reports to know whether schools will stay open or closed, if children are being moved to reunification centers, and whether it’s safe to pick up their children. He said that the FCPS hot line (703-246-2500) will always have the latest information and suggested that everybody sign up for FCPS’ Keep in Touch program. This can be done by going to the Web site, www.fcps.edu and clicking on the Keep in Touch box. A series of prompts will request information and enter the person into the database for emergency notification.
Gottardi also thought that the schools were too loose about people entering the buildings. McLain said that they are testing a prototype lock system where the building is locked and visitors need to be admitted. This would be an expensive proposition to outfit all FCPS buildings, but it is being looked into.
The bottom line is that there are still things to be worked on, but McLain said, “We do the best we can with what we have.”