By Liza Moore
Improving student safety will be the goal of two new grants received by Rockbridge County and Buena Vista schools.
The Virginia Department of Education awarded nearly $200,000 to the two districts last month to address concerns about student safety in the wake of school shootings across the country.
Rockbridge County was awarded $92,000 for Maury River Middle School and Natural Bridge Elementary. Buena Vista received $100,000 to address security at Kling and Enderly elementary schools and Parry McCluer Middle school.
Kat Bishop, the president of the parent teacher organization at Maury River Middle School, said “a grant like this is very important. Whatever we can do for our children — especially during these times — is critical.” Bishop has a daughter in seventh grade at the middle school.
Randy Walters, director of facilities and transportation for Rockbridge County Public Schools (RCPS), applied for the grant for the county the past two years. Walters was notified the third week in October by the governor’s office that Rockbridge County was receiving a grant.
“You can apply every year,” Walters said. “There’s no limitation on it and with safety being the priority everywhere now, they keep upping the ante in helping the school systems.”
In the past, the maximum grant size was $100,000. This year, up to $250,000 could be awarded to a school division for safety improvements.
“Acts of violence in schools have stunned the nation,” said the Virginia Department of Education in an announcement on its website.
Last year, each county school installed buzz-in systems on their exterior doors to prevent people from entering the school undetected.
This year, Walters said, Maury River Middle School was awarded $10,000 and Natural Bridge Elementary School received $82,000 for updated security equipment. The school system has received the grant in the past, but this is the highest sum.
Maury River Middle will install safety film on the front of the school as well as in the cafeteria with the money from the grant. Safety film is designed to keep glass together even after the glass has shattered in order to keep the barrier intact.
To install the film, Rockbridge schools contracted with Armoured One, a U.S.-based security and safety company that focuses on protecting schools from active shooters.
“In most of the shooter and intruder incidents, the person gains access inside the building by shooting at the glass and reaching around to unlock the door,” said Walters. “You could put 100 bullets in the glass [with film] and you’re not going to break through it to get in.”
Armoured One’s security film was designed by active shooter experts and is military- and police-grade. The film costs less than bullet-proof glass and is applied on the inner surface of existing glass and anchored to the frame.
The security company has studied previous school shootings and makes a site assessment before recommending where the film should be installed.
Rockbridge County High School installed the film last year.
“The security film has enhanced the feeling of safety in the building,” said Mike Craft, the principal of Rockbridge County High School. “This is especially evident in the office area, where there are so many windows that could provide easy access.”
Last year, Armoured One came to Rockbridge County to train its drivers on what to do if a shooter was on their bus.
Natural Bridge Elementary School will be using part of the $82,000 grant to install the film, but the majority will be spent on an upgraded intercom system.
The elementary school will also install 16 additional security cameras that will be monitored by the school resource officer.
In the future, Walters said, Rockbridge County hopes to install swipe entry systems in each school.
Buena Vista school officials were not available for comment.