While there's no way to predict when an emergency might arise, Fairfax County Public Schools are prepared to respond during all kinds of situations, an FCPS security official told parents and audience members at a Wednesday Citizens Advisory Committee meeting.
The public school system has plans in place to respond in the event of a gas leak, shooting, tornados, criminal activity in the area, and other potential challenges, said Jim McLain, the security coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Safety and Security.
"A safe and secure environment, anywhere you're at, is a prerequisite to learn. This is what we try to provide," said McLain, a former Fairfax County police officer.
McLain said that many people wonder what the school system's response would be if there was ever a shooting— such as the one in December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Each classroom door has a lock on it, and case studies show that school shooters tend to pass by after encountering a locked door, he said.
One parent wanted to know why the school system didn't add a bar or a chain lock on classroom doors.
"If you block out the bad guy, you're also blocking out the good guys," McLain said.
Every middle school and every elementary school has electronic door access. Schools conduct drills for tornadoes, drills, and other situations. There's also procedures on how to conduct "Shelter in Place"—going to safe areas during events such as a chemical spill.
One real-life crisis that occurred was around the time of the D.C. sniper shootings. Parents volunteered to check in at bus stops and teachers went without recess for a month.
The school system has come a long way in adding security measures, McLain said.
"When I was a young police officer in Fairfax County working in Mclean, every door in every school was open. And the schools were afraid to talk to the police, because there was a divide between what are the police trying to do and what are we trying to do. And when we finally formed that partnership a couple decades ago, it's been beautiful," he said.