HENRY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Security is definitely on parents’ minds as they prepare to send their kids back to school following a surge in gun violence over the past few months.
“Our students and staff safety is our top priority,” said Monica Hatchett, director of communications for Henry County Public Schools.
Henry County Public Schools, like many other school districts, is not taking any chances when it comes to protecting those inside its buildings, especially after a shooting at a Texas elementary school back in May took the lives of 19 students and two teachers.
“The inflicting of harm on people is intolerable. It’s horrific,” said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry.
“Regardless of your location, I think as a parent or as an educator, an event such as that is devastating,” Hatchett said. “Certainly, it does lead groups like our safety team to evaluate our own practices and determine whether there are ways that we might consider upgrading or reinforcing the safety procedures that we have in place as well.”
At Magna Vista High School and other schools in Henry County, security starts the moment you walk into the building. The main entrance doors are always open to the public; the set of doors leading to the hallways and classrooms is locked at all times; and the outer doors of the school buildings auto-lock and are monitored throughout the day by staff and administrators.
“When you enter, you’re asked to scan in through a visitor management system that scans your driver’s license, which does a background check,” Hatchett explained.
Not only does Henry County Public Schools practice drills more often than the Commonwealth requires, but school officials say they an automated system that allows them to call, email, and text families when needed.
According to Hatchett, the district has also added some new security features, but those additions can’t be revealed.
“Obviously, we can’t share everything,” she said.
However, Hatchett tells WFXR News that an armed school resource officer (SRO) is based at every Henry County secondary school.
“We do provide full-time SROs in the high schools, middle schools, and alternative school,” said Perry.
The sheriff says his officers go through active shooter training every year, which is as realistic as possible.
“Actually having a building — a real physical building — to come in, bring the officers up and down the halls, checking classrooms, and there’s actually been the use of blanks in simulated gunfire so that we can make them think, react, listen,” Perry said.
When it comes to stationing full-time SROs at the elementary schools, the district and sheriff’s office say requests have been made over the years, but financial constraints remain an issue.
Even though the county’s nine elementary schools don’t have full-time SROs, officials say authorities can respond in a matter of minutes.
“We do believe that our students and our staff are treasures and they are certainly something to be protected as much as we possibly can,” Hatchett told WFXR News.