Prince William schools to review security procedures

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Prince William County Public Schools are looking for help with a comprehensive security audit to assess physical school safety features, security staffing and more this year.

The county school division issued a request for proposals just before the new year for a contractor to do a complete review of the division’s security procedures and personnel from the top of the division down to the individual school level.

The RFP closes Jan. 27. The selected contractor is supposed to finish its assessment within 60 days of the project start date, which a proposed timeline says would be in the spring.

As far as the division’s physical security features are concerned, the contractor is expected to visit three high schools, three middle schools and three elementary schools and make recommendations that could include enhanced screening, like “the use of magnetometers, or the recommendation of other solutions at high schools, as an effective means to deter/prevent weapons in schools such as training, signage or clear backpacks required,” the division’s RFP reads.

The division also wants a full review of school security staffing “based on job descriptions and best practices for roles and responsibilities in school security with recommendations made on appropriate staffing levels.”

Currently, all high schools are supposed to have one lead school security officer (SSO) and one school resource officer (SRO) from Prince William County Police, as well as up to four security assistants. Middle schools are supposed to have a security officer and resource officer on staff, and elementary schools are expected to have a senior community safety officer and five armed employees rotating among schools.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the school system said it is customary for a new superintendent to “assess the needs of the school division in a variety of areas.”

“PWCS prioritizes safety and security since the school environment is such a critical factor in supporting student achievement. Superintendent Dr. LaTanya D. McDade’s 100-day plan, as well as the PWCS Vision 2025 … Strategic Plan, both focus on the need to strengthen school safety, and this assessment is a great first step in making critical improvements,” the division said in the statement. It added that because the system is actively soliciting bids on the project, further comment would be inappropriate.

McDade’s proposed strategic plan – which will probably be voted on by the School Board next week – includes language about school safety in its “Positive Climate and Culture” pledge. The plan noted that in 2020, 91% of elementary students surveyed by the division reported feeling safe in school, while 79% of secondary students said they felt safe.

“Safety encompasses the physical aspects of facilities as well as the security of the facilities. Research shows that school maintenance has a measurable impact on student safety and learning,” the draft plan reads. It noted that the system has invested in a number of security measures, including security residences, surveillance cameras, radios with repeater systems, access control systems, staffed entry points, visitor identification systems, classroom and office locks, lockdown shades and employee ID badges.

But the first full school year back in person since the start of the pandemic has also brought a string of high-profile security threats at county schools. In November, McDade promised “swift action” after threats were reported at Gar-Field and Potomac high schools, as well as Potomac Shores Middle School. Fake active-shooter reports were also made at Woodbridge and Hylton high schools.

And in December, a 12-year-old boy was charged with making a phone call threatening possible violence at Potomac View Elementary School.

“While these calls were not deemed credible, as a parent and educator, safety situations in schools create real, understandable fear,” McDade said after the week of threats in November. “What happened this week was deeply alarming to all of us – to our families and caregivers, staff, students and administrators.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

 

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