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In response to recent shootings, the Charlottesville School Board reviewed safety and security measures in the division but didn’t request specific changes at its meeting Thursday.
However, a group of Charlottesville High School students wants to see increased responsibilities and trainings for the division’s care and safety assistants, a new role created this school year to replace armed police officers in buildings.
“We want our CSAs to be prepared if something does happen,” said CHS junior Nya Bryant.
Bryant is one of the founders of The Voice, a new youth advocacy group that formed before the Buffalo shooting. She said the group’s focus right now is safety for students of color.
Bryant said she feels safe at school sometimes, but she knows that’s not the case for many of her peers. In a recent division survey, about half of the students said they felt safe at school, though 17.2% said they didn’t.
The Voice held a discussion last weekend about safety in schools ahead of the board meeting.
Bryant said that the students want the CSAs to be more visible during the school day, especially during transitions between classes. Charlottesville High School has four assistants, but Bryant said she regularly sees only one in the hallways during those transitions.
Additionally, The Voice wants more safe spaces for students of color inside city schools. Bryant said the safe spaces would be places where students of color can go for information and talk to someone who is not a mandatory reporter. State law designates certain school employees as mandated reporters, which means they have to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Bryant said the group wants a space where students can talk without child protective services getting called.
School Board chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said Thursday that she attended The Voice’s kick-off discussion and looked forward to hearing more from the students.
“As sad as it is, their main focus or reason for meeting this weekend was to talk about safety and whether or not they feel in school and what that would like,” she said. “It was a very thoughtful group with a lot of great points.”
Larson-Torres also acknowledged the weight of recent events on school staff and “everybody in the school buildings, in grocery stores and hospitals as of yesterday.”
“It’s unfortunate and terrifying that it’s happening everywhere, but our goal and job here as a board is to do everything we can to support and continue to enhance the safety and to share it out with community members or parents, whoever needs to hear it and as many times as they need to hear it.”
On Thursday, Kim Powell, the division’s chief operations officer, reviewed current safety and security measures with the board.
The school system has installed classroom security door locks on all classroom doors. The locks allow doors to be locked from the inside and outside and are considered best practice, Powell said.
All schools in the division also have controlled visitor entrances, meaning someone in the building has to buzz in visitors. The division is working to reconfigure school building entrances so that visitors have to enter through the main office.
The division also has implemented an access control system that allows administrators to quickly see which doors aren’t locked. Powell said they are working on an audio alarm and if the door is not completely closed.
The security system also is supplemented by video cameras. Other building upgrades include an additional layer of film on new glass doors and windows. Powell said the film doesn’t make the glass bulletproof but a bullet does take longer to get through the glass.
The division also conducts 21 different drills with students throughout the school year. They include 11 fire or evacuation drills and four intruder or lockdown drills.
Powell said when families who are concerned reach out to her, she shares resources on what to do in the event of a mass attack.
“These are hard things to think about,” Powell said. “It’s also hard to watch it in the news. It can be helpful for people to know the recommendations.”
The third component of the safety and security measures deals with school climate. That includes the care and safety assistants; social-emotional supports for students and staff; and encouraging students and families to speak up if they see something concerning.
“This is what Charlottesville has prioritized,” Powell said of the climate component.
School Board members asked about video cameras, whether first responders could unlock classrooms — the answer is yes — and for more information about the different measures to control visitors’ access to buildings.
“This isn’t normal,” board member Lashundra Bryson Morsberger said. “This shouldn’t be acceptable. It’s OK to be worried and stressed.”
Larson-Torres echoed that sentiment in her comments.
“I think it’s OK for us to say we’re not OK with how things are, but what are we going to do about it?” she asked.
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