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Virginia Beach Leader Uses Local Panel to Bolster Its Schools’ Security

On the one-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., superintendents gathered at an AASA conference session Thursday morning on “Rethinking School Safety and Successfully Leveraging Community Experts for Change.”

Leading the session, Aaron Spence, superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools in Virginia Beach, Va., described the establishment of a blue ribbon panel in his community as the starting point of “a collaborative effort to provide students, staff and families the safest school environment possible.”

The panel identified gaps in the school district’s safety codes and identified ways to improve existing safety procedures and use new resources to ensure security in schools. To do so, the school district consulted with four community groups, including the police department and students across grade levels.

“One of the things that was important about that was that we open ourselves up to that,” Spence said.”We are really going to take a deep look. This isn’t about pointing fingers. It was a very comprehensive and interesting way to get a different perspective on our work.”

With feedback from the community, Spence and Marc Bergin, Virginia Beach’s chief of staff, created what they called a “three buckets” a plan of action for addressing better security in schools.

The first aspect addressed safety protocols and emergency preparedness. According to Bergin, prevention procedures such as a door-buzzing system and more frequent safety audits are vital safeguards.

The second point covered safety infrastructure. Bergin commented on the difficulty of strengthening classroom infrastructure, as many door-locking systems conflict with fire marshal codes.

The last aspect was directed at behavioral and mental health. Citing a report issued by the U.S. Secret Service, Spence indicated the most effective method of keeping guns off school grounds is through stronger mental health services for students offered by on-campus professionals.

To close the session, Spence urged attendees to expand conversations on the subject. He said he does not view the lack of statewide security standards in schools with discouragement but as a “great advocacy opportunity” for educators to more seriously consider how to keep students and staff safe in schools.

(Sarah Aie is a junior at Walnut High School in Walnut, Calif., and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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