Rappahannock was one of 373 Virginia schools that received a security grant from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office last Thursday (Sept. 25). McAuliffe awarded $6 million total, of which Rappahannock County Public Schools received $13,488.
The grant money, part of McAuliffe’s School Security Equipment Grants, will go toward further protecting students and teachers — not just in Rappahannock, but in 100 school divisions and six regional educational programs.
Now in its second year, the grants will pay for video monitoring systems, metal detectors, classroom locks, electronic-access controls, visitor-identification systems, direct communications links between schools and law enforcement agencies, and other security upgrades.
In Rappahannock, the grant will be used to enhance both schools’ existing security measures, said director of academic services Shannon Grimsley, who wrote the grant application. “This money is going to help us take our security to the next level,” said Grimsley.
While RCPS didn’t receive the full amount it asked for — Grimsley said she applied for $44,000 — any money is deemed a victory. “I can’t believe they gave us money! We never qualify for anything,” explained Grimsley. “It was a longshot really . . . We’re always told, ‘You’re too white, you’re too rich, you’re too rural.’ ”
Specifically, Grimsley said the grant funds will be used at both schools to place more (and better) security cameras that can monitor events in real time. Previously, there was a time delay on the feeds, said Grimsley and Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie C. Smith.
The grant will also help pay for new software to help run the cameras and security system, Grimsley said, including adding the ability for staff in the schools’ main offices to monitor all the camera feeds. (It will also allow the sheriff’s office to monitor and review the feeds, Smith said.)
Lastly, both schools will install a remote lockdown system, which can remotely lock every door in the building, Grimsley said. While both schools’ front doors already can be remotely locked (and stay locked during the day, requiring visitors to be buzzed in via an intercom system), the grant will extend that feature to the schools’ other locks.
“You can’t just walk into the schools without being buzzed in, and that’s kind of a pain,” Smith said, “but we’re working to keep the kids safe . . . I think of [all the students] as my kids.”
To that end, Smith also contributed a letter of advocation with the grant application. “If the money’s out there and will help you protect the kids and teachers, why not try and get it?”
The criteria for the awards — developed by the Virginia Department of Education and the state Department of Criminal Justice Services — gave priority to schools most in need of modern security equipment, schools with relatively high numbers of offenses and schools with equipment needs (identified by a school security audit).
Fortunately, the General Assembly recently created a “priority category for rural schools,” Grimsley said, which will help Rappahannock in the future. “Now it’s not us against poverty-stricken urban schools, which always need the funding.”
The School Security Equipment Grant program was established in 2013 in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Rappahannock’s security improvements, Smith and Grimsley said, are the result of yearly crisis management team meetings, which include the sheriff, 911 coordinator Richie Burke and the school system’s staff.
The team discusses what to do in the event of emergencies, such as a fire or “hazmat situation,” Smith explained, and develops evacuation and security plans accordingly. (This year’s meeting is upcoming, Smith added.)
More than $6 million was also authorized last year; that first round of grants helped pay for new security systems and upgrades in 456 schools and other educational facilities.
“Investing in security improvement that will protect our children while they are in school is critical toward building a new Virginia economy where students can learn and succeed,” McAuliffe said in a prepared statement last week. “These grants will result in safer environments for teaching and learning for thousands of students and educators.”