Parents urge increased school security: ‘Do the right thing!’

Posted at 10:45 PM, Mar 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-07 08:00:57-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond parents Cindy Anderson and Dina Weinstein would much rather be focusing on summer vacation, their kids' education, and college plans.

But, in the wake up another school shooting, they said they have no choice but to worry about their children's safety.

"For me, it's very top of the list for me," Anderson said.

CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit showed them the results of a newly released 2017 Virginia school safety survey conducted by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

"We hope the state will take a look and do the right thing," Weinstein said.

It shows that more than half of all school divisions have submitted recommendations for building improvements, like more cameras, increased entry security, and electronic access.

Dina Weinstein and Cindy Anderson

"You cannot take anything for granted these days with guns and mental health," Anderson said.

The audit also found first responders do not have electronic or online access to current floor plans for roughly one third of schools in the state.

"How hard do you think it would be though for them to have a floor plan the first responders could have? That's not hard," Anderson said.

"Exactly," Weinstein agreed.

And, one out of three schools do not have safety or security personnel.

"I find that very hard to believe, and I would bet you that is going to change after what just happened," Anderson said.

While those things may sound alarming, Dr. Dewey Cornell, the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia, and an Education Professor there, said certain schools, like elementary schools, do not necessarily require on site safety personnel, while others may not have electronic floor plans for good reason.

"If you've got a small school, a single floor simple floor plan, that may not be as pressing an issue," Cornell said.

But, Cornell said he is concerned about what the audit said about the state's innovative threat assessment programs, which is something he helped create after Sandy Hook.

"Often times there is money available for building securities, for physical improvements, and not as much money available for human services and resource improvements in our personnel, and that, I think, is a problem," Cornell said.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2013 required every school system to create threat assessment teams to identify students with concerning behavioral patterns before they turn violent.

The state audit shows those teams are composed mostly of teachers, but the majority of teachers on the teams reported they had not been trained to assess threats.

Dr. Dewey Cornell

"We have a potentially very valuable safety measure in our schools, but not all the schools are equipped and ready to carry it out," Cornell said.

We asked the man in charge of public safety in Virginia, Secretary Brian Moran, about the findings.

"We'd request additional funding for more training, but we've done what we can with the resources available," Moran said.

"When you see that 50 percent of teachers said they wanted more mental health training and recognition of mental health problems, what does that make you think? Does that make you think we need more training?" Hipolit asked Moran.

"It does, and it shows we need more mental health services," Moran responded.

"Do you think there should be more funding devoted to training related to threat assessment?" Hipolit asked.

Secretary Brian Moran

"I do. I think more funds should be available for training," Moran replied. "I will say we've had over 200 trainings though, we've done a good job with respect to trainings."

But Cornell said that in light of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, there needs to be a renewed focus on threat assessment and prevention here in Virginia.

"Virginia has taken a great stride forward to prevent violence in schools,” Cornell said. “We just got to make sure we don't become complacent, that we sustain that effort, and let it continue to be successful."

Weinstein and Anderson agree while recognizing the challenges teachers face keeping up with their everyday classroom demands.

"That needs to be stepped up. That one is a little harder than getting a floor plan, but it's as important, more important, probably one of the most important things," Anderson said.

"It may have fallen to the wayside because there are so many requirements put on these teachers.  I hope it's a priority," Weinstein said.

Cornell said a study his office conducted last spring found that half of all middle school teachers did not even know their school had a threat assessment team.

He said he's currently conducting a federal study on the implementation of threat assessments in Virginia schools.

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