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More school security urged

Friday, January 4, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Mike McPeek, a retired Virginia State Police trooper, urged the Henry County School Board Thursday to use retired law enforcement officers and retired military personnel to help increase security in schools in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

McPeek, of the Collinsville District and a former two-time candidate for Henry County sheriff, said the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook shocked and saddened the entire country. Twenty students and six educators died in those shootings.

McPeek said the Henry County School Division has four school resource officers (which are armed police officers) to serve its 14 elementary, middle and high schools.

“There are a bunch of retired police and military officers in this area” who have many years of experience and would require little training to help in the schools, he said. He said such retirees are proficient with firearms, have experience responding to stressful situations and would not need to receive benefits from the school division because they are drawing benefits such as retirement.

He cited the recent proposal by the National Rifle Association that Congress appropriate funds for an armed guard in every school. It also called on “millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now.” The NRA also offered to provide resources, including training programs, to schools at no cost to schools.

McPeek said a gunman could fire many rounds of ammunition during the time it takes police/emergency personnel to respond to a school shooting, based on national average response times.

“I think every school should have some type of armed security” and publicize it in news media and on school signs that it has armed security, he said.

He said he believes using retired law enforcement and retired military personnel would be a good alternative until every school has an armed deputy or armed police officer.

School board member Rudy Law of the Blackberry District said school security is a complicated, multifaceted issue and suggested that the board have a work session on the matter.

Some other school officials said many security procedures already are in place and the school division always is reviewing safety protocols and will continue to do so.

The board took no action on McPeek’s suggestion.

In an interview, Melany Stowe, coordinator of parent and community outreach for the county schools, said the school division received a competitive two-year Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant of $213,000 in 2010 and just concluded it.

“It allowed us to further enhance table-top drills that have taken place at all schools, also to purchase a number of hand-held radios at all schools to provide staff with means of communicating when cell phones may not work or the intercom does not work, which could be due to weather issues,” she said.

This summer a mock drill was held at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, Stowe said. It included staff from every school, and first responders participated. It simulated a weather incident, and it included reuniting parents with their children on the football field after the school was deemed unsafe.

The skills and experiences obtained in that drill could be used in other types of emergencies as well, such as a shooting, Stowe said.

She noted it is critical for parents to keep their children’s information on file with the school system up to date, especially phone numbers, in the event there is a need to reunify parents and children.

In other business the board:

• Approved the 2013-14 school calendar. The first day for new teachers will be July 29; the first day for other teachers, Aug. 5; and the first day for students, Aug. 12. Student-teacher holidays will be on Sept. 2, Nov. 27-29, Dec. 23-Jan. 3 (with a teacher workday on Monday, Jan. 6, which means students return Jan. 7), Jan. 20, March 31-April 4, April 18 and 21. The last day of school will be May 22 for students and May 23 for teachers, and graduation will be on May 23 and 24. Nov. 4 will be an early dismissal day and parent-teacher conferences, Nov. 5 will be a student holiday/teacher workday at home. On Aug. 28, Oct. 9, Feb. 5 and March 5, there will be three-hour early dismissal to allow for professional development. Officials said the school division wants to publicize the early dismissal days well in advance so parents can make arrangements if they have children too young to be alone.

• Appointed Melinda D. Overby to another one-year term as clerk of the board.

• Set a regular meeting schedule for 2013: Feb. 7 at 9 a.m., March 7 at 6 p.m., April 11 at 9 a.m., May 2 at 9 a.m., June 6 at 6 p.m., July 11 at 9 a.m., Aug. 1 at 9 a.m., Sept. 5 at 6 p.m., Oct. 3 at 9 a.m., Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. and Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.

• Approved DeWitt House, assistant superintendent-instruction, as designee of the division superintendent to attend meetings of the school board in the superintendent’s absence or inability to attend.

• Adopted a resolution recognizing January as Bullying Prevention Month so the issue of bullying and its prevention will be discussed in the county schools during that time.

The resolution states that almost 30 percent of the youth in the United States are estimated to be involved in bullying each year, either as a bully or as a victim. An estimated 160,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade miss school every day due to a fear of being bullied. Bullying can take many forms, including verbal, physical and most recently in cyberspace, and can happen in many places on and off school grounds.

According to information from Barbara J. Coyle, executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association, childhood bullying can cause, in addition to school absenteeism, “mental and physical stress, poor school performance, poor self-esteem and, in some cases, school violence. ... School board members, superintendents, teachers and parents can play a critical role in creating a climate where bullying is not tolerated. It has been proven when adults and children stand together, bullying ends.”

• Heard a declaration by Gov. Bob McDonnell recognizing Jan. 20-26 as Virginia School Principals Week.

• Held a moment of silence for the people of Newtown, Conn., where the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurred.


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