Teachers Say Fairfax Schools Should Reassess Safety Procedures

Visitor access, locked doors, teacher training top list of policies teachers want reviewed, according to survey.

A group of Fairfax County educators say while some of the county's school safety procedures are effective, the system needs to reassess its security policies. 

In a survey last week on guns and school safety by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, one of the county's largest teachers' unions, 60 percent of the nearly 500 teachers who responded said visitor control procedures were among the larger threats to school safety and security.

Enforcement of policies about guest sign-in, locked entry doors and whether students and parents were allowed to roam halls are inconsistent from building to building, they said.

"Anyone can walk in and do whatever they want," one teacher wrote. "That's the scary part."

In comments attached to the survey's multiple-choice questionnaire, which also indicated the majority of educators don't want guns in Fairfax schools, most teachers said elementary schools are more secure and consistent in screening visitors and keeping exterior doors locked during the day. High schools are the least secure, teachers wrote.

School board member Ryan McElveen (at-large) said the survey reflected “the different educational environments in the county—some of our high schools are huge and might need more security resources, and some elementary schools have an “open classroom” design that might need to be reconsidered," he told Patch. "As we move forward, we should spend precious taxpayer dollars on addressing outdoor trailer and door security, not buying guns to arm our teachers."

After the December shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., some Fairfax schools have reviewed and revised their visitor access procedures, FCPS spokesman John Torre said. 

At the moment, there are no plans for a system-wide meeting on those policies, Torre said.

"We certainly welcome our teachers’ input on security issues," he wrote in an email to Patch. "We believe our schools are safe places but our safety and security officials will consider the suggestions offered by the survey participants to determine if there are any steps that can be taken to enhance security.”

All elementary and middle school outside doors are locked during the day, Torre said, as are all classroom trailers, and all have electronic door access systems.  A few schools without video intercoms for their front doors are having those installed this month, he wrote in an email to Patch.

An electronic door access system allows front office staff to ask for a person's identity and the reason for visiting the school before "buzzing" visitors into the building, after which they proceed to the office and sign-in before moving throughout the school.

But in reality, teachers who took the survey said, visitors can often enter schools and move within them without staff knowing who they are or where they're going. External doors are not always kept locked; when they are, some visitors knock on doors in an effort to get teachers and students to open them.

And many students comply, teachers said.

"FCPS has good rules for safety but I don't believe everyone follows them," one teacher wrote.

Not all doors leading into high schools are locked, Torre said, but the schools limit access through certain entrances.

The teachers' union president, Steve Greenburg, said visitor access is a huge issue, and one the system will have to tackle going forward.

"That's going to be tricky," Greenburg said. "Because every parent wants open and accessible schools, but at the same time they want secure schools. That is going to be one of the large conversation pieces we have as we move forward."

Other procedures teachers thought needed to be revisited :

FCPS Rules and Regulations


Crisis / Security Plans 


Staff training 


Conducting "drills" (practice for emergencies)


Classroom guides for emergencies 


School crisis / management teams


Lock or key repair / replacement


Safety inspections


Visitor control procedures 






Schools regularly train staff and faculty in emergency procedures and conduct annual lockdown drills, Torre said, though half of the teachers responding to the teacher union survey said they thought they needed more training. 

The lack of locks, or even doors, on some classrooms also worried some teachers, as did the security of trailers and modular classrooms.

"We feel very vulnerable in an elementary school with lots of windows and an open floor plan with very very few doors in the building- none on any classroom," one teacher wrote.

The school system asked teachers countywide about building security in its 2012 FCPS Working Conditions Survey conducted between Jan. 9 and Feb. 3, 2012, Torre said, though he said the questions in that survey were not as specific as in the one given by FCFT.

Of the 12,405 educators who responded to that survey, 72 percent "strongly agreed" the physical environment of their schools made teachers and staff feel safe; 22 percent "Somewhat agreed."

Greenburg said he hoped the school system "actually takes [the results from the teachers' union survey] and uses them to help guide policy."

"That's the whole point," he added, noting he appreciated the response to the survey he'd received from school and school board officials.

For full results, including teacher comments, click the PDF at right.

This story has been updated.

Hockey Night January 18, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Sounds like the 60% of the teachers or "EDUCATORS"would rather run and hide hoping their classroom doesn't get targeted than defend themselves and their students from a shooter. Your story makes no mention to what the other 40% want or would do.
Mariann Torchia January 18, 2013 at 03:00 PM
Question to Mr. Torre: 'are the Fairfax schools safe, in your opinion, because they are truly as defensible as they can be according to safety procedures implemented by Safety Professionals, or do you say they are safe be ause heretofore there has not been a catastrophic incident? ' There is a great difference between an administrator stating that the system works simply on the basis of it not being tried.
S. Hook January 18, 2013 at 04:54 PM
A no-cost first step would be to eliminate recess, a time when our youngest children are most vulnerable to outside attack. Second, eliminate non-school use of school facilities. These so-called community use groups put their participants in danger just by being there, and allow non-verified people access to the schools. Third, ban field trips and any other activity that would result in students leaving the confines of the building during the school day. These are just a few of the simple, no-cost responses available to us in our new paranoid world.
Mariann Torchia January 18, 2013 at 05:22 PM
S. Hook: Your no cost responses do not address the issues which are guns, school safety, visitor control procedures (which means entrance to the building when school is in session....I.e., buzzer system, etc). The concern here is the efficacy of systems already in place, and how to, if at all, modify them in an effort to discourage or prevent an incident. Are the safeguards in place now (buzzers, cameras) being utilized to maximize their effectiveness OR are modifications necessary? There is, thankfully, much leeway between your tongue in cheek suggestions that amount to our schools being in lockdown throughout the school day, and common sense, reasonable, proactive responses that would provide a needed measure of security to our schools.
Carlin Anderson January 18, 2013 at 06:25 PM
I've never been asked my identity and reason for visiting before entering either of my children's schools (one elementary and one middle school). The doors are locked, but honestly, I think they just see that it's a woman and buzz me in.
Chuck Stein January 18, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Aside from repealing the Second Amendment and a wide-spread confiscation of lawfully held guns, the most efficacious way to address these mass shootings is by posting armed guards at schools. With one exception (the recent shooting in Tucson), mass shootings involving more than three deaths over the past 50 years have occurred where people are prohibited from carrying guns by ordinance or rule. Armed security guards is reasonable in comparison to other measures that are being discussed, not to mention the denial of basic rights that new gun controls would entail. The fact that some in our schools are dead-set against armed guards suggests that anti-gun ideology is being pushed over practical (and proven) solutions.
Mariann Torchia January 18, 2013 at 06:50 PM
I think what you describe is the way it is done....they see you are a woman, maybe they recognize you, and you are buzzed in. My experience at my child's school is the same. I think that these procedures should be tightened. Nothing over the top, just common sense.
Mariann Torchia January 18, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Personally, I have no issue with armed guards. I think that with enforced procedures regarding 'buzzing' in visitors, armed guards would be effective. They would certainly be preferable to a violent assault taking place. They are already in banks, etc. I do not understand the issue with them being in schools. Your points are well made.
Sandra January 18, 2013 at 07:48 PM
I don't see that armed guards would improve the situation all that much. There are situations I've read about where an armed gunman storms into an office building and shoots the armed security guard at the front desk. I believe that happened at the Holocaust museum. I still would like to see less availability of assault rifles and large magazines. Armed guards would not make me feel safer. In fact, the security guards that I often see are not terribly physically fit looking, and are often very complacent. You can pretend all you like that armed guards are the solution, but I don't think that putting armed guards everywhere is going to really do all that much good.
Jim Hubbard January 18, 2013 at 07:49 PM
I agree with Mr. Stein. The real solution is to interpret the Second Amendment correctly (since the amendment deals with state militias and not individual gun ownership) and then eliminate as many guns from American society. The British require every gun to be licensed. Licensees must demonstrate a valid reason for owning a gun. Self- defense is not considered a valid reason. Sounds like a plan to me.
Michael January 18, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Actually, your facts are wrong. Columbine had an armed guard on duty, and Fort Hood had literally thousands of them. Armed guards lead only to a false sense of security and do not actually prevent horrific shootings from taking place. All an assailant has to do is make sure of where the guard is located, and head the other way.
Alezia Avant January 18, 2013 at 08:46 PM
I completely agree with you Mr.Stein!! At my school we actually have 4 police officers stationed in my school (robinson secondary) and we have 10-15 guards but they are not equipped but I think they should be!!!
Kathryn January 18, 2013 at 09:28 PM
Madison High School doors are open. Anyone can walk in.
Curmudgeon January 18, 2013 at 11:16 PM
How can you lock down anything when so many of our school buildings have "learning cottages" scattered around outside? Of course the doors are going to be open; if there are 200 students outside the building at a given time in these trailers (with no restroom facilities), the exterior doors to the main building have to be unlocked.
Rob January 22, 2013 at 07:36 AM
Truth be told, in most high schools if a student sees someone coming to one of the locked exterior doors, they will just let the outsider in because they want to be "polite." I understand the logic, but getting the kids to understand the doors are locked for a reason is the biggest challenge to the visitor policy at the high school level.
Amy Metzel January 22, 2013 at 02:41 PM
I hope you are being facetious - these are terrible suggestions! Who wants to live this way?
cynthia January 24, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Maybe have "undercover" armed security like they do on the airplanes.
Locally Involved January 24, 2013 at 05:24 AM
Again, Columbine had their own armed security. Didn't stop the gunmen. VTech had it's own armed campus security. Didn't stop the gunman. Ft Hood had base armed security. Didn't stop the gunman. Sandy Hook shooter killed 26 people in 2 and half minutes. There would have been no time to even respond to stop the shooter. Even in the TX campus incident yesterday between 2 boys, there were 2 more injured because of 'friendly fire'. Still, didn't stop the shooter. And, it was a campus of 18,000 - undercover or not, you couldn't have anticipated where to be when it happens to stop the shooting. NOT having access to high capacity ammo weapons is the ONLY thing that will stop the mass slaughters.
CR January 24, 2013 at 12:15 PM
In response to what Rob said about high school students opening exterior building doors for approaching strangers out of "politeness" is also something I see regularly at the elementary school level. Our kids need to learn when to set "good manners" aside in the interest of personal safety.
Chuck Stein January 24, 2013 at 02:44 PM
There are many examples where armed citizens and armed guards stopped a shooting or an attempted shooting. Not every time, but in many instances. The fact I cited above is that, with one exception, mass shootings happen in places where citizens are banned from carrying. Some have mentioned Columbine (the armed guard was not present there when the shooters arrived by the way)--let's not forget that Columbine happened while the assault weapons ban, which included a ban on high-capacity magazines, was in effect. So that law didn't have any impact. Plus, there have been other shootings (VA Tech I believe being an example) where the shooter has come prepared with multiple magazines, which can be switched out in just a few seconds. C'mon, gun control advocates. Have the courage (unlike our mendacious President) to advocate what you really believe, which is to repeal or amend the Second Amendment to permit the federal government to do what UK and Australian authorities did, which is a wide-scale gun ban and mandatory confiscation/buy-back program. We should have an honest debate about this, and then be done with it.


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