Fairfax Co. schools making progress on security upgrades

Virginia’s largest school system is making progress toward its goal of adding an additional layer of security to school entrances.

Construction is scheduled to start this summer on security vestibules for at least 22 Fairfax County schools, according to school board documents. Forty sites are in the design phase and will be submitted to the county for permitting early this year.

The security push comes months after the Fairfax County School Board directed Superintendent Michelle Reid to make sure every school has a vestibule built at its entrance. At the time, board member Melanie Meren said the initiative was expected to cost $15 million.

Vestibules for 96 schools will be paid for using part of a $24.2 million state construction grant included in the year-end budget. The vestibules add another layer of security before visitors are able to enter a school’s front office.

Newly-constructed or renovated schools across the county have vestibules, the county said, and designs for schools have featured vestibules since 2017.

The school system started discussing the security upgrades in December 2019 but had to turn its attention to the pandemic. Talks to enhance school security, and specifically add vestibules, resumed last May not long after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

In neighboring Alexandria, the city’s school system released a list of security enhancements, including posting more security guards at all middle and high schools, which came after the stabbing death of a student at the during a brawl last May.

Enrollment dip?

During part of a work session Tuesday, school board members were briefed on school enrollment trends. From September 2017 through May 2020, the county had 189,000 students, according to an analysis from the county’s Office of Research and Strategic Improvement.

But by September 2020, months after the start of the pandemic, enrollment dipped to about 180,000 kids and has remained between 179,000 and 180,000 students through the start of the current school year.

The decline started because in September 2020, the number of kids who left the school system was nearly 4,000 more than usual, and the number of kids enrolling was lower by about 6,000.

And, in the last five school years, the report said, the number of 12th grade students has been “consistently larger” than the number of students in the incoming kindergarten classes.

School enrollment figures are used to determine the school system’s operating budget, and the amount of funding it receives from the state.

The enrollment report was included as part of a discussion about a proposed 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Program, which uses enrollment and facilities data to figure out future financial requirements for things, such as new school construction or renovations.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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