Debate over Fairfax school security continues as vote nears

WASHINGTON — Just over a week before the Fairfax County School Board will vote whether to implement more than $24 million in security recommendations, debate continues over one strategy that was voted down — hiring more school resource officers.

In June, the school system issued a report after an internal security review. The recommendations included replacing outdated locks on classroom doors, increasing security training and adding 18 additional school-based mental health employees, which would allow every middle school and some elementary schools to have at least one staffer.

More than $20 million would be spent on installing surveillance cameras in schools, but a vote on that expenditure is not expected in time for the coming school year.

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead, the Fairfax school system considered — and rejected — the idea of spending $18 million on adding school resource officers at all elementary schools.

Still, many of the comments at Tuesday’s public hearing before the school board dealt with guns.

Several students spoke against the possibility of increasing the number of armed adults in schools.

“The only people who will benefit from guns in our schools will be the NRA, and we kids and our teachers will suffer,” said Karan Murari. He supported the notion of adding school psychologists and counselors as a way of increasing safety.

“There is a .0000002 chance of a student being killed in a student shooting — one in 614 million,” said student Kaylin Perks, who said student mental health is a much more pressing concern.

“When asked if they considered attempting suicide in the past year, 16 percent of 12th graders and 14 percent of 10th graders said they had,” Perks said.

However, Christine Brim, who said she was representing the Fairfax County Republican Committee said statistics showed hiring SROs lowered crime in schools.

“Between 1996 and 2016, juvenile arrests declined 70 percent as SRO programs were widely adopted,” Brim said. “Data from the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety showed as SROs have been added across Virginia, schools have decreases in gangs, bullying, physical fighting, weapons in school, and student access to guns.”

One father, Daniel Paulson, who said he had two daughters in the school system, left little doubt about his suggested solution.

“With maniac killers targeting gun-free zones, it is critical that security resource officers be armed at all schools,” Paulson said.

Paulson wouldn’t stop at arming school resource officers, who in Virginia are generally local police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

“I personally know two certified firearm instructors who are public school teachers. Both of these ladies would like to carry concealed firearms to protect their students and themselves, but are not allowed to.”

The school board vote is scheduled for July 26.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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