Uvalde shooting prompts renewed look at IW school security

Published 4:37 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

Isle of Wight’s supervisors and school system have resumed talk of placing sheriff’s deputies in each of the county’s nine schools in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

Isle of Wight County’s two high schools and two middle schools each has a deputy assigned as a school resource officer. Patrol deputies also routinely visit the county’s five elementary schools, but they aren’t stationed there every day. All four on-site officers are presently funded as part of the Sheriff’s Office’s budget.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton had proposed an agreement with Sheriff James Clarke Jr. earlier this year in which Isle of Wight County Schools would take over funding the salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment of the four deputies currently serving as school resource officers, plus the cost of hiring five more, during the 10 months those officers would be stationed in each school. Per the agreement’s terms, the Sheriff’s Office would still cover the cost of the officers’ vehicles and would pay for the officers’ salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment during the two summer months school isn’t in session.

Instead of increasing school funding to facilitate Thornton’s proposal, the supervisors in May voted to adopt an $88.9 million 2022-23 budget that included an extra $100,000 for the Sheriff’s Office, intended to facilitate the hiring of four new deputies — one of whom would rotate between the elementary schools as an SRO.

Supervisor Joel Acree is now reconsidering in light of Uvalde, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers and wounded 17 others.

“Our citizens want SROs, it seems, a good percentage of them want them in all the schools,” said Acree during the supervisors’ June 2 work session.

Isle of Wight isn’t alone in not having permanent SROs in its elementary schools. According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, the same is true of York County and the cities of Suffolk and Newport News.

At Robb, “they had an SRO who just wasn’t on campus at (the time of the shooting),” Keaton said. “That’s the latest story I’ve heard.”

The official narrative of what happened at Robb on May 24, and when, has changed multiple times in the weeks following the shooting. Authorities initially made, and later walked back, a claim that a teacher had left a door propped open, which the gunman had used to enter. They’d also initially claimed police entered the school immediately, but later stated that the gunman was allowed to remain in the building for roughly an hour before officers killed him.

Supervisor William McCarty, however, wasn’t as eager as Acree to again take up the idea of placing an SRO in every elementary school.

“This is not something you just throw money at and officers appear in the schools,” McCarty stated, noting that they’d have to be recruited, then trained, which likely wouldn’t be complete by the date school resumed in September.

Supervisor Don Rosie called for the creation of a “commission” or “task force” to take a broader approach than just SROs to school security in light of the Uvalde shooting.

Supervisor Dick Grice agreed, stating there needed to be a “much more robust discussion.”

“The schools need to be the lead on this,” said Chairman Rudolph Jefferson, speaking to IWCS central office representative Dr. Christopher Coleman. “You all take the lead and we’ll do everything we can do to try to make something happen.”

Following the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Isle of Wight County Schools undertook an $840,000 divisionwide revamping of its school security measures, which included the purchase of access control badge-swipe systems on doors, high-definition security cameras and “Nightlock” classroom door barricades. The Nightlocks were subsequently removed after they were found to be in conflict with state building and fire codes.