Halifax County Public Schools has been awarded more than $200,000 in school security equipment grants as part of $6 million in security grants announced Thursday by Governor Ralph Northam to help 340 schools in 70 school divisions.

A total of $223,558 has been awarded for Clays Mill Elementary, Cluster Springs Elementary, Halifax County High, Halifax County Middle, Meadville Elementary, Sinai Elementary, South Boston Elementary and Sydnor Jennings Elementary schools.

The local school division will have to match 25% of the $223,558 or $55,889.50, according to grant requirements.

The grants can go toward video monitoring systems, voice and video internal communications systems, mass notification systems, visitor-identification systems, access control systems, two-way radios, security vestibules and other security upgrades. 

Jeff Davis, supervisor of student services and accountability, said, “This grant will give us the opportunity to upgrade our security measures in the school division. Safety is our first priority in the school system, and with this grant we can help ensure an opportunity for our people to feel safe.”

“Virginia’s public schools must be safe learning environments where our children can grow, thrive and prepare for a lifetime of achievement,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why I asked the 2019 General Assembly to more than double the maximum grant allowed for each school division and worked with state lawmakers to double the total annual appropriation for this critical program. This funding represents an important investment in the safety and security of our students and teachers in every corner of the commonwealth.”

The criteria for making the awards — developed by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services — give priority to schools most in need of modern security equipment, schools with relatively high numbers of offenses, schools with equipment needs identified by a school security audit and schools in divisions least able to afford security upgrades.

This year — at the recommendation of Northam’s Student Safety Workgroup — additional weight was given to applications from elementary schools.

“The commonwealth’s most precious resource is our children,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “These school security grants allow schools to implement innovative technology which will help protect Virginia’s students every day.”

The maximum annual award for a school division is now $250,000, compared with $100,000 previously.

Next year, the total annual appropriation for the program will double, from $6 million to $12 million.

“On behalf of my colleagues in schools across the commonwealth, I thank Governor Northam and the General Assembly for their leadership in providing our schools with additional resources to protect students and teachers from potential threats and to respond effectively to emergency situations,” said James Lane, superintendent of public instruction. “In many cases, the School Security Equipment Grant Program provides funds for divisions and schools to address specific vulnerabilities identified during annual school security audits.” 

A local match of 25% is required of most divisions.

Three school divisions with composite indices of local-ability-to-pay of less than 0.2 — Buena Vista, Lee County and Scott County — and the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind are exempt from the local-match requirement.

The School Security Equipment Grants program was established by the 2013 General Assembly in the aftermath of the Dec. 14, 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.