Weapon scanners, SSOs, and the plan to make Henrico schools a safer place for students

Posted at 4:34 PM, May 25, 2023

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — All Henrico County Public Schools will soon have weapon detection scanners as an added security mechanism, with some schools projected to have the scanners installed by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

Following months-long field testing using metal detectors, wands, and weapons scanners at a variety of schools, as well as the county collecting feedback through focus groups and county-wide surveys, all Henrico County School Board members said Thursday they were on board with plans to install scanners.

According to a survey completed by nearly 7,000 parents and staff, roughly 75% said visible safety measures like the scanners would make them and their families feel safer.

Current plans would place roughly 70 scanners across all high schools, 60 scanners across all middle schools, and 100 across all elementary schools, based on campus layout, number of entryways, and other factors.

"It's imperative that this continues to be a regular checkpoint with our students and staff and community, to make sure we're achieving those implied outcomes," Henrico School Board member Rev. Roscoe Cooper, who represents the Fairfield District, said.

In that same survey, about 85% of respondents said in addition to the scanners, more security staff would make them feel safer.

School leaders agreed, also pushing for roughly 75 new School Security Officers to be placed across the county.

School Security Officers, or SSOs, are employed by Henrico County Public Schools and are not armed with guns.

Several school board members spoke out about recruitment plans.

This year, HCPS was allotted funding for 10 extra School Resource Officers (SROs), but did not manage to fill all 10 positions.

SROs, who are employed by Henrico County Police, are armed and receive specialized training to work in schools.

Henrico Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell said the county has a plan to make sure schools have adequate staffing.

"Equipment is one thing, but it's people that run it and make sure that it's working well so those things need to happen in tandem," Cashwell said. "We're going to be really cautious and careful with our implementation to make sure both of those are in place."

Of the small percentage of respondents who said they disagreed with the implementation of weapons scanners or similar security measures, many supported an increase in mental health services and personnel available in schools at varying levels.

Cashwell said scanners and additional staff are just two layers to bolstering security measures.

"I want to underscore for the community that it's not an either-or. It's not the technology or support. It's both," Cashwell said. "And we began bolstering our mental health supports and other supports in schools, and wrap-arounds for students, over the past few years, increasing the number of school counselors, our school-based mental health teams, and this piece related to layers of school security in addition to that, not in spite of that."

Another layer, Cashwell said, is addressing the district's code of conduct.

"We certainly want to make sure that we're fostering a school climate where everyone takes school safety responsibility, where there is discipline and consequences when students are making infractions that are safety-related, and that we're doing the wrap-around supports for prevention with mental health and those sorts of things," Cashwell said.

Cashwell said the district will utilize pre-existing funds to cover the cost of the additional security measures.

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