Roanoke schools upgrade security and increase safety on campuses

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Safety has always been the number one priority for Roanoke City Schools, but over the last year the district has really worked to secure their open campuses and classes.

Former chief of police Chris Perkins was appointed chief of security for the Roanoke City School District last year.

"I spent a lot of time learning the district itself," he said, describing his first year on the job.

Through talking with and listening to principals, teachers, staff and even the students, Perkins took charge to improve the safety and security of all the schools in the city, starting with school entry points.

"Open campus, meaning separate buildings, was a mindset in the late '60s and early '70s," Perkins explained. "When people were thinking about it, they didn't think safety and security the way we do now due to the traumatic effect of school shootings on K-12 campuses."

Up until this year, the city had 3 elementary schools with this open campus design, but when school starts August 20, there will be none.

"And I think that's a huge accomplishment," he said.

The city has also been working to enclose classrooms so access is limited to one classroom at a time.

"The idea is to have a contained area where kids can be comfortable and teachers can accomplish what they need to accomplish," Perkins said. "At the same time, they have the ability to lock a door and protect students."

In his first year, he and the school district identified 17 priority projects that needed to be done to secure the schools. One of them was renovating the entry point of Lucy Addison Middle School.

Before, the main office was several rooms away from the outside door, meaning whomever was buzzed in would have access to several parts of the school before ever meeting a school official.

"We didn't want to lose the customer service aspect of it by segregating things off and making things feel more like a prison," Perkins explained, showing off the new design. "So we used window fronts to where, when folks come in, they can actually see what's going on in the school, but the idea is that those we don't want in the school, maybe those with bad intentions, can't get into the school."

Now when people visit the school, they'll be required to show an i.d. which will then be run through quick background databases before the visitors can be escorted into the school.

Perkins described the school as a little city that needed protecting and acknowledged the city and the school board's attention to safety.

"The board absolutely understands that even though education is what they're there for, they understand that safety provides for a healthy conducive environment for education," Perkins said.

There's still some last-minute touches being done at Lucy Addison, but Chief Perkins says they're ready.

"We're going to have them in here rain or shine, we're going to be open."

Seven out of the 17 top priority projects have neared completion.

Roanoke city students will be heading back to school Tuesday, August 20.

Copyright 2019/WDBJ7. All rights reserved.