Weeks after two deadly school shootings across the country, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick assured parents Loudoun County has been and will continue to do everything to keep students safety through out the school day.
"Certainly this has caused renewed interest in school security," he said, "but I want to assure you we’ve had these programs in place for years."
To keep schools safe, every school has an emergency response plan, which is practiced at least once a year, with the participation of outside agencies and community partners, such as the Sheriff’s Office and local businesses. Also, school safety audits are done by a team of professionals that look at the "whole business of school safety within the school system," Hatrick said. By action of the board, teachers can initiate a call from their classrooms in an emergency.
In addition, there are security cameras in all schools. The superintendent said the schools are in the process of upgrading the system so that operators can activate cameras in individual schools, from a central dispatch location.
Someone from dispatch can literally look at what’s going on, on a school campus, he said.
Each school has either Sheriff’s deputy or a Student Resource Officers, who are often retired Sheriff’s deputies as well.
"You may see in the upcoming budget, some additional requests for mechanical equipment or electronic devices that we believe could aid in school safety," Hatrick said.
In the meantime, Hatrick said the best defense is a human one.
"Our best line of defense is all the people who are on campus, having them be vigilant about strangers on campus," Hatrick said. "We are redoubling our efforts with students throughout the county, with staff throughout the county to remind them, that if somebody is in the school that doesn’t appear to belong there, you just need to let the office know so that we can respond as promptly as possible."
Throughout the school day, access is limited to one door at the elementary-school level. LCPS employees wear identification badges and visitors must sign in at the main office and sport a fluorescent colored identification badge.
"Even I’ve been challenged when I walk into schools," School Board member Joseph Guzman (Sugarland) said.
In addition to physical safety programs, the schools offer a number of programs such as anti-bullying, conflict mediation and peer-counseling programs to students.
Hatrick said school staff checks doors on the hour, every hour, to ensure security.
THE HEALTH, safety and wellness committee will meet Monday, Nov. 6, to discuss the issue of school safety and armed intruders. School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) invited parents to attend the meeting, get information and offer some input.
John Andrews (Potomac) said the entire community should be a partner in school safety.
As a father of four and a School Board member, Andrews said he too is committed to protect the county’s children.
"It’s like your next-door neighbors' house, you know if somebody’s supposed to be there, if somebody’s not supposed to be there," he said. "Don’t be afraid of calling if something seems out of place or doesn’t seem right."
"The bottom line is that Loudoun schools are always thinking about the safety of students and staff, short of erecting walls and posting armed guards," Hatrick said.