VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas took center stage in American politics this summer, and it's still fresh on people's minds as students and staff gear up to head back to school.
Twenty one people were shot and killed by a gunman at the school in May.
Surreal surveillance footage put the shortcomings of law enforcement on full display, and reports highlighted a breakdown in training and communication among different agencies that responded that day.
The gunman reportedly walked through an unlocked door and into the classroom where he killed 19 students and two teachers.
Now, the security failures that allowed the shooting to happen in Uvalde have parents in Hampton Roads nervous to send their kids back to school.
"Every time there is a major incident like that in the country, it ratchets up our anxiety," Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence said.
Spence said security is his top priority.
"We take it very seriously," he said.
According to VBCPS Chief Operations Officer Jack Freeman, the school division is increasing security at elementary schools, adding a school resource officer in all secondary schools and adding an emergency manager.
"That emergency manager will be able to help with operations and our planning as well as our response," Freeman said.
New this year, he said the division is adding an armed security officer at all secondary schools. That will help decrease response time if something happens, according to Freeman.
Shortly after the mass shooting in Texas, VBCPS School Board Member Victoria Manning told 13News Now those security officers are former law enforcement officers coming out of retirement. They’ll receive the same training as VBPD officers.
On the technology side, Freeman said school leaders are constantly upgrading camera systems throughout the division. He also said they can't forget the basics.
"As It relates to Uvalde, one of the big things we want to make sure is we have our external doors in a locked position."
He credits the school division's strong relationship with the Virginia Beach Police Department for making some of these safety policies happen.
"The security piece is incredibly important for us, and we have a very strong team that has police officer background, and we’re very well partnered with the city, and that includes Virginia Beach Police Department, Fire Department to make sure we are prepared and ready to respond if needed."
From the statewide perspective, in the new budget Virginia is spending $27 million to get more school resource officers in the hallways.
"What happened in Texas was heartbreaking, but you saw a lot of systematic breakdowns. A lot of it was a lack of communication. Nobody knew who was in charge," Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said during a recent visit to Hampton Roads.
He said Virginia State Police officers constantly monitor threats via social media and phone calls through the Virginia Fusion Center. His office has also been in touch with HBCUs across the Commonwealth who have seen their fair share of bomb threats this year.
"We have a zero tolerance policy for those that would like to try and threaten people where they should be the safest. Whether it’s a sick joke or they want to commit acts of violence, zero tolerance."
Miyares went on to tell 13News Now he has spoken to police chiefs and sheriffs around the state who say they are looking at that report issued by Texas State University outlining what went wrong during the Uvalde mass shooting. He said they are always training for a similar situation.
"Making sure that if that... hopefully never happens in Virginia... that our officers know not to wait. They don't stop. They rush in. They take out the shooter."
Superintendent Spence, whose kids are in the VBCPS division, wants to reassure students, staff and parents, they never stop working to protect everyone in their buildings.
"I share some of those anxieties, and I have to say that's something that keeps me up at night, and it's something that keeps me working on this issue every single day," he said. "Always assessing, always evaluating, always training."
Each of the other six school divisions in Hampton Roads are also beefing up security. Here's a breakdown of what each division will have in place when kids go back to school.
“We are still working in partnership with both the Portsmouth Police Department and the Portsmouth Sheriff's Office for school resource officers at our middle and high schools (and also supporting all of our elementary school campuses), and we have made ongoing updates to our lighting and camera systems as needed throughout the division as well," a spokesperson for Portsmouth Public Schools said.
In Hampton, they are adding weapon detection units in all of their middle schools and PreK-8 schools. They say they will train "appropriate staff" at those schools on the new equipment. Other strategies in Hampton's safety plan include:
- Raptor Visitor Management Technologies to check in all guests
- HCS Emergency Response Plans
- An HCS Emergency Response/Safety Team in each school
- School Threat Assessment Teams
- Evacuation and lockdown drills
- A buzzer system at all front doors along with internal and external cameras
- Radio system at all of our schools
- Panic button system
- Hand-held metal detectors at all of our schools used for random searches
- Police canine dog dedicated to HCS through the SRO program to conduct random narcotic sweeps
- Weapon detection canines through American K-9 Interdiction to conduct random firearm searches at all secondary schools
- School Security Officers (SSOs) - HCS employees - who receive annual school safety training to include ALICE training and de-escalation techniques
- School Resource Officers (SROs) - Hampton Police Division - SROs are assigned on a full-time basis to all of our middle and high schools during the school year as well as support neighboring HCS elementary schools
- School safety audits and school inspections
- ALICE training provided to all 2,000 employees staff at their schools during the 2019-2020 school year as well as training during the 2021-2022 school year to new hires and continued annual training for schools throughout the division.
- Safe School Hotline and Tip Text Line 757-504-0921
- Division wide Critical Incident Stress Management team to provide continued training throughout the year to certify additional staff members
In a letter to Norfolk students and staff, Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong said they do everything "within our control" to ensure everyone within their buildings are safe. A spokesperson for the Norfolk Public School Division shared these specifics:
- Norfolk Public Schools has received more than $200,000 from the Virginia School Security Equipment Grant. The division used this money to install Aiphone Video Intercom Systems at all school main entrances and added access control at some schools. The division applies for this grant annually.
- Norfolk Public Schools installed Raptor Visitor Management Systems at all schools to monitor visitors and volunteers. All visitors and volunteers must swipe a driver’s license upon each visit to the school, which conducts a check against the National Sex Offender Registry. Additionally, some volunteers and visitors receive more intensive national criminal background checks.
- Each year, Norfolk Public Schools meets state requirements to update School Crisis, Emergency Management and Medical Emergency Response Plans.
In Chesapeake, a spokesperson for the school division said the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas "remind us that we must continue to remain vigilant in our efforts to practice our standard operating safety measures on a consistent and daily basis." Take a look at some of the safety policies and procedures that will be in their classrooms:
- All exterior doors and classroom doors will remain closed and locked during the school day.
- School Security Officers and administrators will routinely monitor all exterior doors throughout the school day.
- Buzzer, video, and intercom systems have been installed in all schools.
- All visitors will be required to show identification through our AI camera system before being granted entry into every school building.
- Upon entry, visitor identification will be run through our Raptor system
- All school visitors are required to wear identification badges.
- All schools review and practice lockdown procedures.
- "See something, say something, do something" is taught and stressed throughout the district.
- Each school building is equipped with a police radio to use in the case of an emergency.
- The Chesapeake Police Department will continue to encourage street officers to conduct additional patrols of our schools.
- Routine building safety checks are conducted by our Department of Safety and Security.
- Routine safety training, reminders, and drills will occur throughout the year.
- Additional school security training is provided by the Chesapeake Police Department
- Instituted a designated secure channel for bus drivers to communicate directly with police.
- Every classroom is equipped with emergency quick reference guides for lockdown procedures.
- Outside speakers for PA systems were installed and remain on at all times.
- The Quick Tip App is available for all parents, students, and staff for the purpose of reporting any concerns.
Over in Newport News, the division's crisis management plan for each school includes:
- A platform that monitors students' Google Drive folders and their school division email accounts. It monitors indications of self-harm, suicidal ideation, abuse, bullying, and threats of violence. The platform’s trained staff monitor 24/7 and provide notifications to school and district administrators based on the severity of the incident.
- All visitors must use a single point of entry at all schools. They must communicate with office staff using a camera/intercom system prior to admittance, and report directly to the main office to have their ID scanned by a multifaceted security software that screens, manages and tracks all visitors and school volunteers. The system also alerts school personnel if any visitor is on the sex offender registry.
- Interior and exterior security cameras are positioned in strategic locations throughout all school buildings to monitor and record student and staff movement and activities. All school buses are also outfitted with security cameras and GPS.
- In addition to the drills mentioned above, the school division will conduct training on safety procedures in the event of an emergency situation on school property. The training will be conducted with students and employees in each school at least once each school year. School Security will provide safety training courses at faculty meetings throughout the school year and to staff at other NNPS worksites. To satisfy the requirement to train students each year, school principals and administrators will be encouraged to hold an annual safety townhall meeting. The information shared will be provided by the School Leadership department.
- School Security Officers are trained annually using the school division’s current electronic program for mandatory trainings. Included in the platform is an emergency management curriculum that will be incorporated in the training developed for staffs at schools and worksites.
- A team of 61 NNPS school security officers who are trained by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice are tasked with maintaining order and securing the premises of school locations. School Resource Officers (SROs) from the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) support NNPS in safeguarding our students. When necessary, NNPD presence may be increased upon request by school division administrators. Open communication between the school division and NNPD allows changes in the level of support to occur swiftly as needed.
- In order to meet the goal of safe and orderly schools, video surveillance equipment, metal detectors, vehicle searches, random searches of personal property, and drug and munitions dogs are used to discourage students from engaging in unsafe activities and to uncover potential prohibited items. Random searches are conducted on school buses, in classrooms, and when applicable, in student lockers. Searches may be executed at the direction of the principal or designee to help maintain a safe school environment.
- School division and NNPD staff work together in monitoring social media posts to the extent possible for indications of self-harm or threats of violence to students or staff so that the appropriate actions may be taken to address the situation.
Finally, in Suffolk, a spokesperson for the school division said they are adding measures for the physical and emotional well-being of their students and staff:
- Additional radios to all schools
- Additional cameras to be placed both inside and outside
- Partnering with the local police department to practice intruder drills
- Participated in several summer training on school security
- Additional School Safety Officers to some schools
- Additional staff to monitor hallways during school hours
- Partnering with the police department, fire department to conduct lockdown drills
- Participation in numerous school safety training for key division and school personnel
- Partnership with local CSB to provide Mental Health Care for students
- Additional School Counselors and School Psychologist
- Additional Behavioral intervention specialists at certain schools
- Implementation of Daily Student Social/Emotional Check-In
- Parent Help Center on the division website
- Telemental Health Services