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Newport News School Board lays out safety and security plan

Between adding more security officers and having all weapons detection systems in place by March 14, the school board says making sure everyone feels safe is key.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Tuesday night, the Newport News School Board laid out a safety and security plan following the Richneck Elementary School shooting.

Police say a 6-year-old shot his first-grade teacher there almost two months ago. The teacher, Abby Zwerner continues to recover after being shot in the chest.

Just this week, another student reportedly made a threat at Richneck.

A 5th grader allegedly sent texts to his classmates saying he was going to “pop some bullets” and went on to tell someone to shoot up the school.

That student has since been "excluded" from the school.

Between adding more security officers and having all weapons detection systems in place by March 14th, the school board says making sure faculty, staff and students feel safe is number one.

But based on the results of a recent survey, some think more can be done.

"I want to ask something of you, and it is to keep me safe and alive while I continue to do things to make the world a better place,"  5th grader L.J. Winthrop said Tuesday night while addressing the school board.

His mother went before the school board Tuesday night, pleading with them to do something.

"This is not just a Richneck problem," she said. "We entrust in you the people that mean the most in the world to us."

Before that meeting began, the board presented the results of a survey taken by 1,300 staff members.

Trust, safety and communication were top concerns; 72% said they were pleased with school safety efforts, but only 37% said they were satisfied with the communication of those safety measures.

"Listen to what people are saying. Listen to what the union is saying and we can make things move forward," said Newport News Education Association President James Graves after handing the board a three-page letter.

In that same survey, 52% believe clear bookbags are an effective safety precaution and 73% said the same about random bag searches.

The board presented a 20-page slideshow to show everyone what they are doing now in regard to safety.

To start, by March 14, each elementary school will have two security officers.

They will also have all 90 weapons detection systems in place that same day. Heritage High already has three installed, Richneck Elementary has two and they have one on reserve.

Staff and security officers are in the process of being trained on the machines.

These are the same 90 systems the board announced just days after the shooting. At first, they referred to them as metal detectors, but have since clarified these are more sensitive to weapons and more versatile than regular metal detectors.

They also say Newport News sheriff's deputies will be present at arrival and dismissal at many schools.

Newport News police officers will have access to cameras and buildings via key-card swipe, but only if there is a threat.

The board also says they are in the process of creating three committees comprised of staff and parents: The Family Engagement Advisory Committee, the School Safety Advisory, and the Rights and Responsibilities Advisory Committee. The deadline to apply is March 3 at 5 p.m.

At the end of the meeting, Board Member Marvin Harris thanked everyone for speaking up and assures them they are listening.

"It’s not often you hear the same message from everyone," he said. "The message was consistent and clear and it’s been that way prior to this incident."

You can view the entire safety and security plan by clicking here.

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