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Police chief talks safety measures as students return to Richneck Elementary

Students walked out of Richneck Elementary School Monday with clear book bags, three weeks after the shooting shook the Newport News community.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — In what city leaders are calling an unprecedented time in Newport News, parents of Richneck Elementary School students said they prepared the best they could for their students to return to the classroom.

Gerry Evans dropped her daughter off to return to the second grade. She said her daughter understands there was a shooting inside the school at the beginning of January, but she said it didn't intimidate her from walking through the school doors. 

"I'm happy that my daughter seems... I don't want to say unscarred by it, but excited to go back to school," said Evans. "She's happy about the security. Her positivity is really nice, because that's the most frequent question: how is Jane doing? Well, she's doing pretty good." 

Monday marked the first day back to school for students in three weeks.

Twelve Newport News police officers welcomed students at the entrance and in the parking lot where they walked through a state-of-the-art metal detector. 

Newport News School Board Chairwoman, Lisa Surles-Law, said the students did not appear overwhelmed by the new security measures.

"They're [metal detectors] very far apart from the door and they're not very noticeable," said Surles-Law. "That's what we were going for is that we had the safety presence, but it not be as noticeable."

Surles-Law said teachers received updated safety training over the past few weeks. She said beyond the physical barriers, she is focused on the mental well-being of her young students.

"One of the biggest pieces important to put in place right now is their social and emotional aspect," said Surles-Law. "They've gone through a lot of care during this time."

She said administrators added doors to classrooms, which originally had open doorways prior to the shooting.

Surles-Law said Richneck Elementary now has a full-time school security officer in place. That person is meant to monitor and de-escalate any situation. 

However, this is different from a School Resource Officer.

Police Chief Steve Drew said he wants to staff each elementary school with the necessary security, but right now, he said it's just not in the budget.

"I would love to have the opportunity or ability to put an officer in every school," said Chief Drew. "I don't have the 23 people to put in there... and I would never do that without meeting with the school board, school officials, and the parents. That's a conversation we would heavily have." 

Chief Drew said his team is close to wrapping up the investigation regarding the shooting at Richneck Elementary. 

He said he hopes to release the investigative report to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office soon, but did not clarify a timeline of when he would hand over that report.  

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