The Halifax County School Board discussed safety measures in the schools and approved new science textbooks in their Monday meeting.
The board met at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, in a departure from their usual meeting place in the Mary Bethune Office Complex.
Beefing up security in the schools has been a priority of School Superintendent Dr. Amy Huskin’s since she took the reins as Halifax County Public Schools’ leader in July.
Nearly all schools in the HCPS system have metal detectors, and the school system is in the process of procuring more sophisticated weapons detection technology for the middle school and high school, Mike Lewis, HCPS’ director of student services/accountability, shared with school trustees at Monday’s meeting.
“These scanners are much more advanced than your standard metal detector,” Lewis explained. “The metal detectors we have are airport quality, but the one downside to those type of machines is that they pick up all metal. The purpose of these scanners is they also pick up different shapes and sizes and things that are programmed into an algorithm to make it much more successful in picking up actual weapons and not just Chromebooks and metal water bottles…They’re quite complex.”
HCPS will use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to pay for the new weapons scanners in the middle and high school. The school system has no immediate plans to purchase the weapons scanners for the elementary schools.
School board vice chair Roy Keith Lloyd clarified, “We’re prioritizing our middle and high school based on the perceived threat level?”
Lewis responded affirmatively.
Huskin remarked, “These are very expensive. It will take us years to get these at the elementary schools.”
Lewis added the purchase of weapons detection scanners for the elementary schools in the future might require additional funding from the county.
“As a community, school board, all of us have to invest in safety in the future,” Lewis said. “I think it takes a complete community effort to sustain the appropriate equipment for our children.”
The student services director also noted, “We’re probably one of the only school divisions that’s doing anything (for weapons detection) at the elementary school level. We’re trying to be at the front end of this instead of the back end.”
Election District 8 Trustee Walter Potts questioned why the school trustees has not had an opportunity to view the new weapons detection technology for the middle school and high school and take a vote on it prior to its purchase.
“We’re getting ready to spend big money and we don’t even get to look at it?” Potts asked. “I want to see it demonstrated … We need to see what we’re putting our money into.”
Lewis said the school system went through a request for proposals (RFP) process for the purchase of the weapons detection scanners, and a committee review and graded the companies’ various proposals before making a decision on which product to purchase.
With Potts raising the question about viewing the weapons detection scanners, the school trustees requested Lewis to give a presentation on the scanners at their next (April) meeting.
Huskin also updated trustees on the status of an idea she brought up at last month’s meeting to purchase clear bookbags for all elementary school students to aid the school system in weapons detection. Upon review, she said it has been determined that it is not in the school system’s best interest to purchase clear or mesh bookbags for elementary students because of the cost and the lack of durability of the bookbags.
“It’s a good idea, but it’s just not practical,” Huskin told the trustees. She noted purchasing one set of bookbags for all elementary students in HCPS would cost $12,000, the equivalent of a teacher assistant salary.
School trustees voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting to adopt the textbook “Exploring Science: All Around Us” published by Five Ponds Press as the science curriculum for HCPS elementary (kindergarten through 5th grade) students. ED-6 Trustee Lacey Shotwell made the motion to approve the purchase of the science textbooks and ED-1 Trustee Kathy Fraley seconded the motion.
Susie Milam gave the presentation, telling the trustees that HCPS students are in “great need” of a new science resource following the decline in science SOL scores in recent years. The last time the school system purchased new science textbooks for elementary school students was in 2004.
Milam remarked that “Exploring Science: All Around Us” has a digital component in addition to the textbook, aligns with 2018 Virginia Standards of Learning for science and the vocabulary and content of the texts are age and grade-level appropriate. The cost of the seven-year contract for the new science curriculum resources is $224,000.
Huskin also noted that Virginia teachers wrote the science textbooks.
“I know for sure, having worked with this company before, that our students are getting curriculum that is aligned to Virginia standards,” Huskin asserted.
In other action, school trustees decided not to make a change to the current (2022-23) school calendar. School Board Chair Jay Camp brought up the idea of amending the school calendar, making April 17 a holiday for teachers and students, adding another day to spring break, which is scheduled for April 10-14.
Fraley made a motion to amend the calendar, making April 17 a holiday for teachers and students. However, the motion did not receive a second and failed to pass. Shotwell, ED-3 Trustee Melissa Hicks and Potts all spoke in opposition to making the change to the school calendar.