RICHMOND, Va. -- The drive from Central Virginia to Uvalde, Texas, is about 24 hours, a distance that seems much closer Wednesday.
After 19 children were murdered inside a school building there, Central Virginia school leaders are reassuring families here and reviewing security plans.
Both Richmond and Petersburg schools requested an enhanced police presence near their buildings. Multiple school districts noted to their families the mixture of door locking mechanisms, secured entry/exit points and security cameras intended to help secure and lockdown schools in the event of the unthinkable, which is becoming more common in America.
“I think it weighs a lot on all of us, teachers, students, administration because we’re constantly thinking about what we’re having to do in schools. But now, we’re constantly thinking about that other piece. Security is layers. You have to put layer after layer down,” said Dr. William Sroufe, the Superintendent of Colonial Heights Public Schools. “Safety is woven into what we do, and we take a holistic approach to it.”
Dr. Sroufe said his leadership team spent the morning reviewing their security protocols and procedures in light of the Uvalde shooting.
“We have safety teams that go every single year into our buildings; we have a report going to the state. But are we vigilant enough? Is once a year enough? Should we do it once a month, six months? It’s all the stuff we spoke about this morning,” he said. “What I want to know from our standpoint, is how the young man got into the building, how he accessed the building. Those are the things we could see how we’re operating.”
School Resource Officers are assigned to every school in the district, including elementary schools. Sroufe said the relationship their SROs build with the school community gives him comfort.
“I’m really grateful this morning for those SROs in our building and the relationship they have with our students,” he said.
In 2019, after another mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, Virginia doubled the amount of grant funding local school districts can receive to bolster their physical security infrastructure. The amount each district can receive per year is capped at $250,00.
While helpful, Sroufe said improving physical infrastructure is not cheap.
“It did increase a couple of years ago but it’s still a competitive grant system,” he said. “If we want to keep schools safe, we should fully fund schools. We should fully fund the safety of schools.”
Tuesday morning at a school drop-off line in Chesterfield, a local mother and teacher, who did not give her name, summed up what so many of her colleagues are forced to think about in the days after another mass shooting at an American school building.
“There’s a Facebook post going around, and it’s like, alright, where are the things I can put in front of the door? Where are the exits? What does my classroom look like from the outside? Can anybody see through my window? It’s terrifying,” she said.