Police step up presence at schools across the region

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the creation of aschool safety task force Monday after a gunman shot and killed 20 students and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday.

The task force, which will review school safety policies and emergency management plans, as well as provide legislative and budget proposals to the governor, will be paired with a statewide review of safety procedures at all levels, from preschool to college.

"While we all seek answers surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, it is incumbent upon me, as governor, to ask our experts to reflect upon and review our system," McDonnell said. "Virginia must evaluate safety in our schools and ensure that we are providing our young people with the best opportunity to learn."

School systems throughout the Washington area say they have safety plans in place to cover such emergencies as the massacre at Sandy Hook, and police are increasing their presence around local schools this week to create ease in the community.

"The [Prince George's County Police Department] will deploy patrol community resources as a 'soft presence,' " the agency said. "Citizens seeing a police car should not assume the worst."

Students in Prince George's observed a moment of silence at 10 a.m. on Monday in remembrance of the Sandy Hook victims. In addition to the increased police activity, counselors are on hand for students and staff.

Fairfax police also made their presence known at county schools Monday, often greeting students and parents as they arrived in the morning. The county had counselors and mental health specialists available at all schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools had sent a letter to parents Friday detailing the district's safety plan -- which includes close coordination with the police department -- and telling parents that teachers, staff and administrators are working "together to take every precaution in the event of an emergency."

Regionwide, districts recently have enacted new training for teachers, which includes active shooter response. Prince George's County Public Schools and DC Public Schools conducted active shooter training this past summer, and other regional school districts have updated school safety plans in the past year.

Other security measures vary in individual districts and schools, but all participate in emergency drills, have school officers inside the schools full-time or part-time and require visitors to check in at schools.

Depending on a school's needs, individual safety plans are tailored for different buildings, said Gboyinde Onijala, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools. She said parents should not be worried about sending their children to school, as districts will do whatever it takes to make sure kids are safe.

"Our schools are prepared," she said. "Our No. 1 priority is to keep students safe in school."