Spotsylvania school division superintendent Mark Taylor on Monday evening said that a weapons detection system failed to prevent a loaded gun from entering a Henrico County middle school this spring.
However, the school — John Rolfe Middle — did not have a weapons scanner installed at the time, Henrico County schools spokeswoman Eileen Cox said Tuesday.
“Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) is committed to providing a safe, welcoming learning environment for all students, staff, and guests. In support of that commitment, HCPS field tested weapon scanners and detectors at multiple schools last spring; however, John Rolfe Middle School did not participate in the field test,” Cox wrote in an email to The Free Lance-Star.
Cox said weapons scanners and metal detectors will be implemented in Henrico schools this coming school year, where they will be “one layer of a strategic approach to safety.”
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Taylor made his remarks at Monday’s School Board meeting in response to questions from board member Dawn Shelley about the division’s safety plans.
“We had a firearm enter Chancellor Middle School (this spring) and within about a week of that occurrence, there was also a firearm that entered a building in Henrico,” Taylor said. “The interesting difference between the two is Henrico had been studying weapons detection systems for I think two years, had come to a decision and installed the technology in the building, where the weapon got past the technology and into the building.”
Earlier this month, Taylor sent out an email to division families asking them to “please consider” sending their children to school with clear backpacks.
On Monday, he explained that suggestion by saying it grew out of the Henrico incident.
“Weapons detectors are not going to save us. Look at the Henrico exercise,” Taylor said. “By the way, we have no budget. That technology can cost a bunch of money and we saw the results that can be produced. You install the technology that says, ‘We bought safety,’ and to the mind of some youngsters … that’s just a challenge.
Out of that rose the suggestion of a clear parcel so everybody can see. That’s sending a signal that says, ‘I am transparent. I’m in it for safety.’ I think that’s important.”
In his message earlier this month, Taylor said the school division is developing “a program to put some parent volunteers in schools to boost vigilance.”
On Monday, he elaborated on that program by saying that potential volunteer parents would be reviewed and background checked.
“We’re not picking them up at the southern border and flying them up to do this,” he said.
Also on Monday, as part of the consent agenda, the School Board approved the temporary reclassification of an additional 30 full-time teaching positions to interim teachers.
Interim teachers must have a minimum of an associate’s degree or at least 60 college credits, be actively enrolled in an educator preparation program and have “the equivalent of one year of successful experience working with students,” according to the agenda.
There are now 60 full-time teaching positions that can be filled with interim teachers.
The board approved one of two action items on its agenda for Monday’s meeting — changes to regulations concerning community use of school facilities.
One of those changes removes the Spotsylvania Education Foundation from the category of organizations that can use school facilities free of charge.
The Spotsylvania Education Foundation is a registered nonprofit organization that provides innovation grants and funds professional development activities for division teachers.
Last year, the foundation provided a grant of $1,996 to Salem Elementary for a “diversity book project” and grant of $1,497 to Thornburg Middle for a “social emotional learning project,” according to the agenda for the Dec. 12, 2022 meeting.
The School Board pulled these grants from the list of donations approved at the December meeting without explanation and did not approve them until February of this year.
The board voted on Monday to table its second action item, approval of changes to regulations governing student attendance.
One of the proposed changes states that the division will accept up to 10 excused absences with a note from the student’s parent or guardian, but any excused absence after that will require third-party documentation.
“All absences not properly documented will be considered unexcused, and the unexcused absences policy and regulations will be implemented,” the draft regulation states.
Several people who spoke during public comments at Monday’s meeting said the proposed changes fail to accommodate special needs students and are discriminatory against low-income and immigrant families who might not have access to a doctor or might not be able to take time off work to get a doctor’s note.
The board approved a motion by Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail to table consideration of the proposed changes in order to gather more input from staff and the community.
The board adjourned the meeting without taking up any new or unfinished business.
Adele Uphaus: 540/735-1973