Jason Miyares 139.jpg

Attorney General Jason Miyares

As Virginia’s elementary, middle and high school students begin the 2022-2023 year, Attorney General Jason Miyares said safety and security are at the top of his — and parents’ — list of priorities.

“You’re entrusting that school, when you drop that child off, to keep the most precious thing in the world safe,” Miyares said to Fauquier County school and public safety leaders before a closed-door safety and security roundtable, as part of a special session convened by the School Board.

Shortly after the 2018 mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, “students were very interested and concerned about their own safety, and wanted to know what we were doing to keep them safe, and that really hit home with all of us,” Fauquier County Public School Superintendent David Jeck said.

Shortly before the security roundtable, Jeck told WTOP the school system “has been adding a layered approach to school safety,” which includes adding armed school security officers and school resource officers, redesigning vestibules to upgrade safety features, and introducing a Raptor system, which immediately notifies law enforcement in a security emergency.

“Every one of our schools has at least an armed SSO (school security officer) or SRO (school resource officer),” Jeck said. “Our high schools have both. Each of them is trained, and either current or former law enforcement.”

The school system has also instituted a youth mental health first aid program focusing on emotional safety — in which trained and certified staff wear a purple lanyard.

“We’re training over 500 staff to know what questions to ask, what signs to look for, and then who to direct the students too,” said Jeck.

Bad actors ‘don’t always make headlines’

Before the School Board entered the closed session, Miyares spoke briefly about the role of school officers, and touched on safety and security precautions to deal with addiction, mental health issues and gangs.

“We see in our schools a variety of other bad actors that don’t always make headlines,” Miyares said. “Anyone who has ever dealt with addiction or depression, they’ll tell you that social isolation is the single worst box you can ever put them in.”

With two years of COVID-19 dramatically affecting in-person schooling, the attorney general said principals tell him students are dealing with the fallout.

“We’re seeing a mental health crisis, unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Miyares said. “As we get through this period where we return to normalcy, we are seeing that impact on mental health, and we’re seeing it in our kids.”

Miyares: SROs a ‘frontline barrier’

Miyares expressed support for armed school resource officers: “The more we have them, the better,” he said.

Citing previous school shootings in other states, he said some of the perpetrators “go where they think they create the most destruction and mayhem, and school resource officers can give a kind of frontline barrier.”

The benefits of armed officers, Jeck said, goes beyond the ability to confront an assailant.

“They build great relationships with kids that head off a lot of problems,” Jeck said. “If [students] see these [officers] as people they can trust, and who are there to protect and help them, they will share information with them.”

Conversely, the officers know the youngsters: “They’re able to see a kid might be a little off that day, and something’s not right,” said Jeck. “They’re able to communicate with them, and connect with them, and perhaps help them — that is critically, critically important.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin “has funded several hundred additional school resource officers from around the state,” said Miyares. “And every locality’s going to face their own budget challenges, so local schools are going to have to see what their challenges are, and their funding priorities.”

“I think most Virginians — on both sides — can see the need for them, and I’d like to see more of them in our schools,” Miyares added.

According to Jeck, “Implementing something like what we’re doing here, statewide at all the school divisions, I think would be money very, very well spent.”

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports. Reach him at naugenstein@wtop.com

(13) comments

J.R. Cossio

Finally someone with the guts to try something that is more likely to work rather than placing your head in the sand with the results we saw in the news.

Larry Lyons

Lets see, how many armed police officers were there in Uvalde? The ones that hung around for an hour before responding? And what happened in Parkland - where the armed cops took off running faster than the road runner when shots happened?

ROBERT ARRINGTON

yes and shoot anyone with a gun inside the school period

John Dutko

Take it a step further: Intruders will be shot on sight.

No trial. No due process. No laws.

Just straight up headshots. Then put the officer on admin leave.

John Dutko

What happens when the SRO or SSO does nothing?

Because that is what happened at Parkland and Uvalde.

Sacagawea Lax

Well technically is "law enforcement" obligated to do anything or is it all discretion based 100% of the time?

Of course not. Use deadly force, it's justified in other instances. You've shared the statutes in the past of it not being a "requirement" to use deadly force or take action. Well, the training should be exactly geared towards that. This shouldn't be complicated. Either protect or he inhabitants of the school building or don't.

John Dutko

This is the point. We cannot compel officers to put themselves in harms way. The schools are better off installing metal detectors in an entry control point that has limited access. Issue ID cards to the students with pin codes for access.

Change the shooting drills. There has been a whole generation that knows the tactics, techniques, and procedures to get around law enforcement standard operating procedures.

Sacagawea Lax

@ John

I do respect that you are calling for more drastic intervention Because it's highly unlikely things pan out for the better sooner rather than later the under current protocols and procedure. Each and every breach of security with a firearm in any public setting really is mitigated by timely and forceful response. Time is of the essence in these situations. Not an SRO running away from the scene of the crime (Parkland) and not from total dysfunction and insurmountable time delays in execution of a plan (Uvalde).

Brad London

If we do this, the school shooting wacky cowards would never go into a school.

John Dutko

Yeah, they would just pick off people when entering/leaving. Or be like Brenda Ann Spencer and shoot into the school from across the street.

George Lawton

Finally some common sense!

Larry Lyons

given your recommending it, it is neither of the two.

Sacagawea Lax

Fauquier County, leading the way forward with the school system and local law enforcement providing the resources of safety and security for its students.

With the Youngkin and Miyares seal of approval!

Fauquier County is for Lovers! Prince William Rural Crescent 3.0!

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