Several Fairfax Co. school safety projects ahead of schedule, superintendent says

Several Fairfax County, Virginia, public school projects aimed at improving school safety are projected to be finished ahead of schedule, Superintendent Michelle Reid told the school board Thursday night.

For one, more than 3,000 classroom door locks have been replaced, which is an ongoing initiative that Reid said is nearly complete. Tom Vaccarello, director of the school system’s Office of Safety and Security, said the purpose of replacing the locks is “for all of our classes to be able to get into a lockdown protocol right here and right now without thinking about how to lock the door.”

That project, Reid said, is expected to be finished by this summer.

Nearly half of the county’s schools have security vestibules, aimed at providing an additional space between a school’s entrance and front office, and Reid said those upgrades are “on a five-year completion schedule.”

All middle schools will have cameras by the end of the school year, one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule, and about half of elementary schools in the county have external video cameras, Reid said.

The upgrades come at a time when school officials say safety and security are top of mind for parents and community members. Fairfax County also initiated a third-party safety audit, and expects it to be finished by July.

“We know how important safety and security is to the teaching and learning environment and what our students are capable of doing and feeling centered in that,” Reid said.

Reid said the school system is “very close to an agreement” for an initiative to add cameras to school bus stop arms. The county also recently placed cameras near eight schools to address speeders.

However, Reid said the county’s visitor management system “has resulted in several registered sex offenders being denied access to our school.”

Fairfax County is also piloting several initiatives, including a vape detection program that would detect use within school bathrooms. Reid said the program has yielded “mixed results” so far, but noted it’s ongoing and will be reviewed. Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school system, recently detailed a plan to use such detectors in bathrooms.

The county’s considering a weapons screening system, a step nearby Prince William County schools has taken. There, security screeners are expected to be installed in every middle and high school by the fall.

Fairfax County is also exploring the possibility of a pilot program for front office panic alarms, which Reid said would provide “quick and direct access to law enforcement.”

“We’re looking at open door alarms, student and staff entrance screening, the hardening of door glass and windows, (and) social media risk assessment monitoring,” Reid said.

“I want to make sure our community understands we have an extensive intrusion alarm system that’s been installed at all schools and centers that are monitored 24/7, classrooms with their phone intercoms, and our digital 3D school floor plan mapping is underway at this time. This is going to allow first responders to better serve our schools if we have a crisis situation.”

In response to an incident in which a middle school counselor remained on the job despite being convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor, the county will now run all current employees through the National Sex Offender Registry. It’s the start, Reid said, of a process to run employees’ fingerprints on a regular basis.

School board member Megan McLaughlin praised the ongoing security initiatives, but said, “We do want to still remember that we are a K-12 school system, and so finding that balance so that children feel like they are coming into a school and not into a locked facility. And I know that makes it difficult.”

Several parents expressed concerns about school safety during Thursday night’s public comment period. Greg Diephouse, a parent of two Glasgow Middle School students, said, “The safety standards at the school have degraded to a point where many children are not feeling safe at school, my children are included.”

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.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up