VA House speaker, lawmakers tour schools to study security

VA House speaker, lawmakers tour schools to study security
House Speaker Kirk Cox (right) stops by Colonial Heights High School. (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As the country marks the anniversaries of the Virginia Tech and Columbine school shootings this month, some Virginia lawmakers are touring schools around the state to see what measures would make them safer.  The legislators are members of the new bi-partisan House Select Committee on School Safety and they hope to gather best practices for all schools.

House Speaker Kirk Cox (R - Colonial Heights) toured security at a school he once attended, Colonial Heights High School.

"Good morning.  How may I help you?" said a receptionist to Speaker Cox over the intercom.

To enter the school is to enter a fortress.  You have to be buzzed in, your identification is checked, you sign in and wear a badge.

Cameras monitor the hallways.  A school resource officer and another person off-site monitor the monitors.  Teachers watch over students in the halls, too.  And should trouble strike, panic buttons hidden around the school can be pressed, sounding an alarm and calling police.

"That immediately alerts law enforcement and they come in full force," explained Principal Kristin Janssen.

The school is even watching over students' mental health.

"We have a social worker and I also have a psychologist on site," said Janssen.

But not all schools have this much security.  So House Speaker Kirk Cox and other legislators are looking at schools to see what's working, what's not, and what schools need to protect students from an attacker.

"Hopefully at the end of the day, the General assembly will have some really good recommendations on the mental health pieces, on the security piece, and on the preparedness piece," said Cox.

Colonial Heights School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Cox, who happens to be the Speaker's brother, says he hopes lawmakers will continue a grant program that has helped schools cover security costs.

"I think they fall into two categories: one is security, the other is mental health," said Dr. Joe Cox.

Though some security measures don't cost a thing.

Said Sgt. Renee Walters of the Colonial Heights Police Department, "One of the things we've talked about is how to get people to let us know things.  Anonymous reporting or making sure our students, staff, or parents know there's someone they can call."

Speaker Cox says the committee will not take up gun control but will focus on school security and funding to pay for it.

"My fear was I want to get things done.  This is not a political committee.  This is a can-do committee," said the Speaker.

The House Select Committee on School Safety holds its first meeting April 26.

House Democrats also formed a Safe Virginia Task Force, which will consider gun control and meets in May.

Copyright 2018 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.