Virginia legislator wants to improve safety of school room partitions

Jan. 8, 2019
After 9-year-old student was crushed to death last year in an Alexandria, Va., school, lawmaker proposes additional safety requirements for the equipment.

After a 9-year-old boy was crushed to death last year by a motorized room partition in his Fairfax County, Va., school, a local lawmaker and multiple school districts are taking action to prevent another tragedy.

NBC4 Washington reports that Virginia Delegate Mark Sickles of Fairfax has drafted legislation requiring the addition of safety devices to all motorized partitions in schools. He represents the portion of Fairfax County that includes Franconia Elementary School, where Wesley Lipicky, 9, was killed last spring.

The third-grader was helping a teacher operate a partition in the gym of the Alexandria school on May 18 when he got caught between the huge partition and a wall. He suffered severe head injuries and died later at a hospital.

"I think that we need to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen to any other family," Sickles says. "We need to do everything possible, especially if there's a technological fix, to make sure that we have safe places for our kids to learn."

The delegate's bill would require partitions to be equipped with devices that cause them to stop when anything interrupts their path while they are in use.

Since the accident, some districts in the Washington area have been instituting changes.

Arlington (Va.) Public Schools will add an extra layer of security, so that only trained staff can access partition operating keys. They say any potential operators will receive training annually. And Arlington schools will no longer install the large motorized walls. They are switching to motorized drop-down curtains instead because they pose less of a threat, the district says.

Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools say "written protocols are in development ... that reaffirm that the double-key system schools use may only be operated by MCPS staff."

Prince George's County (Md.) Public School officials say they recently developed a standard operating procedure for partition use and are mounting that procedure on walls near the partitions. Also, they are conducting additional training.

Fairfax County Public Schools also revised its policies after Lipicky's death. 

Sickles applauds the efforts of those districts, but says statewide safety policies are needed. New York is the only state that requires schools to use safety devices with all motorized partitions

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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