BROSVILLE — Delegate Danny Marshall, of Danville, toured two Pittsylvania County elementary schools on Tuesday to talk to county staff about school safety.
Principals at Brosville Elementary and Stony Mill Elementary pointed out what they thought were the weakest areas of the school’s security system, and Superintendent Mark Jones and Assistant Superintendent Jeff Early answered questions about county policy surrounding school safety.
Marshall said he was seeking the information for when he goes back to the Select Committee on School Safety, which he vice chairs.
The committee will review state and local policy on school safety and make recommendations to the General Assembly during the 2019 session.
“We want our schools to be safe, but we have to figure out what is needed and how we’re going to pay for it,” Marshall said.
All of the Pittsylvania County schools have internal and external cameras, and the middle and high schools all have a sheriff’s deputy as a school resource officer. An additional SRO splits time between the STEM Academy in Chatham and the Career and Technical Education Center on U.S. 29 in Blairs.
“Every time you hear it on the news you think ‘What would I do?’” Brosville Elementary Principal Felita Atkins. “It’s hard not to put yourself in those shoes.”
Something Atkins brought during the tour is they have to teach students not to open the doors for people, no matter what.
“We had a substitute who wanted to come through the back door, and a young man opened the back door,” Atkins explained. “We have to respond to stuff like that immediately.”
One question that came up was whether the school system was looking into an invention that would block the classroom doorway from the inside.
“We’re talking to the fire marshal and lawyers to make sure we know the possible issues that would come along with using a device like that,” Early said. “I think the idea’s good, but I think there needs to be another couple steps before we make a decision.”
One of the areas of concern was the glass in the doorways and windows to the schools, particularly in the cafeteria.
“If you look at our high schools, the cafeteria is all glass,” Jones pointed out. “If something were to happen, that’s an access point.”
One solution to that would be replacing all of the glass with tempered, bulletproof glass, but it would be costly.
Both principals said they would like to have more exterior cameras, specifically for the outdoor play areas and classrooms.
Stony Mill has five mobile classrooms, most of which are full all day and two do not have bathrooms. Students in those classrooms have to come into the building to use the bathroom, which is a security problem and a manpower issue since teachers can’t be in two places at once.
“If there’s a younger child, we let the office know that there’s a team of children coming in,” Principal Kimberly Haymore said. “The teacher will watch as they come up the sidewalk to the door and back.”
Marshall will be returning to tour Chatham High School at a later date with Delegate Les Adams, of Chatham.
“I will have to commend the county for the buzzer system, locking the doors, making sure we have camera access, and the things that we have done to improve that safety so we have that eye on incoming traffic,” Atkins said. “It’s helped, but it doesn’t alleviate that fear.”