Above: Amrah O’Donnell; Donald Green
A proposal to have 10 retired law enforcement officers work in 10 elementary schools in Chesterfield County generated some heat at a working group meeting last week.
The School Safety Task Force Working Group No. 2 met at the school board office June 27.
The working group discussed moving the proposal forward and a school district spokesman answered questions from some in attendance. The meeting became contentious at one point and resulted in a young man in the audience, Will Ares, walking out when he became upset at a woman working group member, Amrah O’Donnell.
Donald Green, manager of safety and security for Chesterfield County Public Schools, directed the meeting. He previously was security and emergency management supervisor for Newport News Public Schools, he said, and worked as a police officer for 15 years.
Eighteen states have some form of armed school staff, Green said, adding that Park County, Fla., is hiring 90 armed “school guardians” for their elementary schools for 2018-19 school year. He noted that Virginia authorized armed school security officers last year, although no school district has implemented it yet. However, Prince William County has plans to hire five such officers for the fall.
Mark Bowen, a retired Chesterfield County Police officer, has been working at Bellwood Elementary as a part-time unarmed student mentor. Bowen came up with the armed mentor proposal that the group has been working on recently.
Green said any armed mentors, if approved by the school district board, would go through state-mandated training. “The police department would have to be involved in training,” he said.
The estimated cost for the proposal is $385,000 with officers being paid $25 an hour for 28 hours a week. A full-time supervisor would be paid $30 an hour under the proposal.
Green said he’s aware of a number of retired law enforcement officers who are interested in the program. He said it would be a proactive measure to any future school violence and contribute to improving school climate. “The mere potential for armed staff can deter an armed assailant,” he said.
A parent survey that involved six schools has reflected support for the proposal, Green said. He noted that it was not a scientific survey, but had 527 responses.
School board member Dianne Smith said the survey was not quantitative. A woman in the audience said she didn’t think it was a good thing to base a decision on. “Maybe our schools need to be gun-free zones,” she said. “I’m not OK with putting an armed guard in these schools. It’s like going to prison.”
“We went with such a small online sampling” because it was the end of the school year, students were testing and school principals asked them not to do a large sampling, O’Donnell said.
Another woman asked why the group was considering armed mentors instead of armed school resource officers, which are employed by Chesterfield police and located in middle and high schools. “Every police department in this region is [short-staffed],” Green said. A woman police officer from Chesterfield said that department is 20-25 officers short, but is 50 short from an operational standpoint because a number of them are still in the police academy.
When asked if the school district will conduct a countywide survey, Smith said she didn’t know but noted there will be public hearings. She added that some 300 people expressed an interest in sitting one of four working groups as part of the recently-created School Safety Task Force. The working group members were chosen by school board members, Smith said.
When asked about the research the group is considering, Green said stays abreast of school shootings and reads the “after-action reports” associated with them. “There’s massive amounts of information we’re looking at,” he said.
A woman asked Bowen if he thought that having a gun on campus would scare the children. Bowen said, “No.”
“How well do vetted officers miss their shots in a pressure situation,” a woman asked Green. She answered 80 percent of the time, and Green said he would not debate that point.
“It’s potentially divisive,” working group member Angie Trueblood said. “Clearly, I’m torn.”
The School Safety Task Force was created in the spring. Working Group No. 2 plans to have a final draft complete by Aug. 15. The group will meet again 7 p.m. July 25 at the school board office, 9900 Krause Road.
“It just seems like it’s all really rushed,” a woman said.
“These things have budget implications,” said Joe Tylus, CCPS executive director of constituent services. A decision is needed by fall in order to procure any necessary funding, he added.
Some of the ideas that were mentioned last week that will be discussed by the working group in the future include: controlled access to a school through one door; monitoring social media; examining other schools’ visitor management systems; an improved public address system; improved communication with the school district’s learning cottages; installing panic buttons; 24/7 alarm camera; student tip line; implementing a mobile security response team; and having a designated safety team leader at each school.
Emily Ashley, the district’s emergency management coordinator, said the district is planning an active shooter drill at O.B. Gates Elementary in conjunction with L.C. Bird High School at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11. The drill is open for those 18 and up.
Working group member Sabrina Adams said she participated in the last one the district had. “It will give you a reality check,” she said. “They had ‘dead’ people and ‘blood’ on the floor. That’s why I’m here. It hit home.”
Green said he can be contacted at Donald_Green@ccpsnet.net.