Parents, teachers discuss how to make Fairfax Co. schools safer

The Fairfax County School Board meets to discuss school safety on Thursday, July 12, 2018 at Luther Jackson Middle School. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — After several deadly school shootings around the nation, especially the one in Parkland, Florida, one area school district is taking a closer look at some options it hopes will make schools safer.

Several recommendations will be up for a vote in late July, but the community is getting a chance to weigh in on the safety plan before the vote.

“Our fears for our kids as they walk through the school doors everyday has increased exponentially,” said Fairfax County parent Laurie Cohen.

During the hearing Thursday night at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia, members of the school board heard from parents, teachers and residents on what safety considerations the system should fund in the upcoming budget.

The school system is focusing on three areas from a report on school security procedures done by the Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Safety and Security.

The first area included hiring 18 additional school-based mental health support staff members, which would include psychologists and social workers.

“The ratio of mental health professionals to students that were in the report … horrifying,” said Margaret Power, of McLean, whose children went through the school system.

Every high school in the county has full-time psychologists and social workers on staff, and the additional hires would go toward staffing all middle schools and some elementary schools, according to the school system.

“I agree wholeheartedly that we do need more mental health counselors for a variety of reasons,” said board member Sandy Evans, who represents the Mason District.

Another recommendation the board intends to vote on is whether or not all classroom doors should be locked at all times and if funding should be made available to replace all outdated dual-keyed door locks.

“In today’s world, a door to a school should never be unlocked,” said elementary school teacher Chloe Yazdani.

Yazdani said several times a year, she is asked to huddle her 7-year-old students in her classroom for a lock-down drill, even though multiple times a year she finds the doors to the school “completely open.”

“Relying on students under duress to move bookcases in front of doors isn’t the answer,” said board member Elizabeth Schultz, who represents the Springfield District.

Also up for a vote by the board on July 26 is whether to fund the hiring of additional staff members who will focus on the safety training of students and teachers, which include drills and table-top exercises of emergency scenarios.

Roy Hayes volunteers as a basketball coach at an area school, but his full-time job he said is designing security systems for the government. He recommended that with the training, staff should be taught what gunfire sounds like inside a building.

“Many people believe that they know what a gunshot sounds like, but they won’t, not indoors,” Hayes said.

During an earlier hearing on the report, the board decided against adding metal detectors to schools and plans to further discuss in the future the addition of school resource officers and other security personnel to more schools.

Even though it’s not up for a vote, several speakers spoke out against adding more officers to campuses.

“I’d rather have another teacher than a police officer in our schools,” said resident Andy Twigg.

Another idea that the school system plans to discuss is whether or not, like high schools, elementary and middle school should have interior cameras.

Ahead of the July 26 vote, another public hearing will be held on July 17 at 6 p.m. at the Jackson Middle School Auditorium in Falls Church.

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