Charlottesville High School will soon have tighter safety restrictions, but the Charlottesville City School Board said during its Jan. 4 meeting that it needs more time to consider all of the recommendations, such as installing weapons detectors at school entries.

Many of the upgrades requested will cost City Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars, meaning the school division will need time to see where it can get the money from. Every year, City Schools allocates $350,000 for security equipment, and as of now, the school system has about $90,000 to spend on some of the proposed changes. However, City Schools will look through different funds to see if money can be reallocated to cover the costs of the remaining items.

“Our students want the same thing that our staff wanted; they want the infrastructural systems and support that would build a community that we would all be proud of,” Kenneth Leatherwood, interim principal of Charlottesville High School, said at the Jan. 4 meeting.

The recent push comes weeks after CHS endured a teacher sick out on Nov. 17.

Twenty-seven staff were “not available to come to work” that day, though “fewer than half” were part of the coordinated sick out day, Amanda Korman, a spokesperson for City Schools said in an email to Collectbritain. The sick out led to class cancellations for three days, and a forced examination of how the school approached student violence. 

Charlottesville High School's safety procedures have undergone a number of changes since, some of which were in the works before Nov. 17.

Some of the changes focus on how students and staff enter and exit the school building, which has been a problem. Some of the recent fights at CHS involved students letting people who were not affiliated with the school into the building, said Cheuk at a November news conference.

Charlottesville High School currently uses a single-point vestibule, or foyer, that is equipped with a camera and a voice box to identify visitors, just like many other schools in the city.

The main office doors are the only way staff and students can enter and exit CHS. This is a recent change. Last semester, the high school used the main doors for bus drop offs and the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center entrance for car drop offs, according to Cheuk. This was put in place when students returned to school after the pandemic, in part because a shortage of bus drivers meant that more parents were driving their children to school, she said.

Other recent adjustments to school operations include administering parking passes to students and giving more duties to current employees, such as crossing guards, to patrol the building during class time and at lunch. City Schools already hired two crossing guards to work as hall and cafeteria monitors in addition to their current positions.

City Schools is also working on adding more physical safeguards and stronger communications systems to add extra levels of security to CHS.

The school system will add extra enhancements to the school's dozens of exterior doors.

To keep students from accessing exits other than the main hall, within the next year, the school district plans to install key and fob systems on all doors. Only staff members would have that access. The new system will allow for the school to keep track of when the doors are being used, and who is exiting or entering. The door additions are projected to cost about $90,000, said coordinator of safety and security Todd Koogler, which the School Board agreed to fund first.

The school district may also purchase weapons detectors for the main entrance.

The weapons detectors will cost City Schools $120,000, said Koogler. However, School Board members decided to postpone making a decision on purchasing the weapons detectors to do more research, finalize protocols and gather input. The Board has not decided how it will go about gathering that information.

If the district decides to install detectors at the CHS main doors, students would be required to walk through them to enter the building. Students would be instructed to place tablets, laptops, phones and aluminum water bottles on the side and walk through the two panels with their backpack in hand, said Koogler. If the detector sounds, an employee would search that student's bag.

The school division would consider adding the detectors to Buford Middle Schools and some elementary schools if the Board decides to proceed with purchasing the gates, Koogler said. Koogler did not say which elementary schools, and was not immediately available to answer Collectbritain's questions.

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Koogler also recommended the school division purchase and install a more modern radio communication system. The current radio system used by the district for in-school communications has a range of limitations. For one, other radios or similar devices can interfere, causing issues with communications. If more than one person uses it, it will cancel out the communication altogether. Koogler said City Schools run into issues with its current radio system one out of four times. 

When City Schools ended the memorandum of understanding with the Charlottesville Police Department in 2020, it cut off radio communications with law enforcement, meaning the school division can only communicate with police through phones.

The Albemarle County Police Department, University of Virginia Police Department and CPD use an updated system that City Schools can join. The new system would prevent interference, and allows for a greater range for communications between schools. A system upgrade would cost $100,000 for 30 radios, said Koogler.

City Schools is now revisiting its memorandum of understanding with the Charlottesville Police Department, which could mean the re-introduction of police officers in schools. The division is exploring a Community Youth Officer model, in which an officer also works with other youth programs outside of the school to help and support students, said Korman.

That's not all the district will be considering. There is also a push to add more cameras in blind spots within CHS, such as the auditorium, gymnasium and library, and excess exits (such as fire exits) that are rarely used.

The Board requested Koogler to provide funding updates on the security changes in the following meetings.

I'm Collectbritain's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.