|Students arrive Sept. 3 for the first day of the school year at Discovery Elementary School, a new school in Ashburn. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
Loudoun County Public Schools is in the midst of taking the necessary precautions to keep the county's children safe during the school day.
Additional emphasis is being placed on exterior door security, visitor identification and the purpose of the visit.
Using the AIPHONE system, which has been in use at LCPS since 2007, all visitors will be required to verify their identification with school personnel prior to entry, regardless of the frequency they may visit an individual school. That process has been the case for years and won't change.
“We aren't doing anything different really other than to emphasis you really need to obey this,” LCPS spokesperson Wayde Byard said. “This is not in response to any particular event and it has been in the works since last April.”
Suzanne Devlin, supervisor for LCPS Safety and Security, is overseeing the emphasis on school safety protocols.
“Loudoun County has had their exterior doors locked for some time. They took a pretty progressive view post-Columbine,” Devlin said. “We felt things were slipping a little bit with change in staff, so we re-energized existing policies around the securing of exterior doors while school is in session.”
According to Devlin, the person in charge of access at each school will be friendly, but will ask each visitor questions to gauge their emotional state.
Devlin, who took her position a year ago, has been working with the deputy superintendent to identify needed changes or upgrades.
She came to LCPS after a few years in the intelligence arena at the Department of Homeland Security and 30 years in law enforcement.
As a result, the Safety and Security Department has created signage in English and Spanish to provide direction on accessing schools during the school day.
They also are in the process of painting yellow footprints outside each door, showing where visitors need to stand with their IDs.
“We are also doing some training which we hadn't done before, specifically around decision making for those who manage school access,” Devlin said. “The intention of that in a strong sense is to empower that person to make decisions and those decisions may not always be rational decisions, but decisions based on behavior that makes them uncomfortable.
School security is an ongoing topic, but recently was scrutinized again in national headlines following an Aug. 20 incident outside of Atlanta.
In that incident, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, followed another person into an elementary school. After firing six shots at police officers, he surrendered when officers returned fire.
“We are really trying to maximize the human piece of this, which is the nature of security. In the Atlanta situation, a guy had a weapon and piggy-backed on another person coming in to the school,” Devlin said.
A major point of emphasis for Devlin is that this is not just a school issue, but also a community issue, urging anyone on school grounds to pay attention to the environment, adhere to the practices and become extra eyes and ears.
“We have had big training with our bus drivers as well, because that is 987 buses rolling around Loudoun County all day long,” Devlin said. “I have had a lot of calls from people saying they don't want to insult someone by shutting the door in their face. Sorry, but we are insulting them. You don't know who they are and it just is not worth it.”