Fairfax County Schools Considering Motorized Partition Safety Devices After Child Is Crushed

Putting safety devices on all 127 motorized classroom partitions in the district would cost an estimated $635,000 to $762,000

After a 9-year-old boy was crushed to death in an accident involving a motorized room partition in his Virginia school, the school district is exploring the option of adding safety devices to every partition in the district. 

Fairfax County Public Schools is considering the installation of safety devices after the death of Wesley Lipicky on May 18 at Franconia Elementary School in Alexandria, sources tell News4.

Lipicky was caught between the partition and a wall in the gym of the school. He had been helping a teacher operate the device, police said.

Fairfax County schools said in a statement that while they have no "current plans" to buy the devices, they are "always evaluating opportunities to improve safety practices and procedures." 

The school district asked a company called Modern Door for specifications on a product called SafePath, a source said. It’s a motion-sensor device that stops the partitions from moving if anyone walks near them.

If the county opts to purchase SafePath devices, one would be added to each existing partition, a source said. There are 127 motorized partitions in the school district.

One of the owners of SafePath said it would cost between $5,000 to $6,000 to purchase and install each device, meaning the project would cost the district an estimated $635,000 to $762,000.

It was not immediately clear if the project will move forward, when installation could begin or how the project would be funded.

Lipicky was in the school gym about 4:45 p.m. Friday, May 18 when he and a teacher simultaneously pressed a button to open the partition, police said.

Lipicky, a third-grader, was caught between the partition and a wall and suffered traumatic head injuries. An EMS crew arrived within four minutes, fire department records show. But Lipicky's injuries were too severe. He died at a hospital that night.

An autopsy found that his death was accidental. A Fairfax County Police Department investigation is ongoing. The department previously said no charges were expected.

The teacher involved in the incident was on administrative leave.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the district is focused on making schools safe. 

"The tragic accident that occurred at Franconia Elementary School last school year left all of us in the FCPS family profoundly saddened. We are determined to ensure that another accident of this type never happens again in any FCPS facility," he said in a statement issed Wednesday. "We have focused on ensuring a sense of safety and normalcy for the students, families and staff as they returned to the school last week."

Brabrand stopped all use of the partitions while the incident was investigated and safety protocols were reviewed. School officials said safety protocols had been in place. It was unclear, though, if they had been followed. 

Two weeks later, Brabrand allowed the partitions to be used again. Principals were told they could be used under the following conditions:

  • Students are not permitted to be in the gym, on the stage, in the cafeteria, or anywhere else where the doors are located when the doors are being opened or closed.
  • Only specific staff, designated by the Principal, may operate the equipment.
  • Access to the operating key will be restricted to these designated employees only.
  • Staff members are required to monitor both sides of the partition when it is opening or closing.

Modernfold, the Indiana company that made the partition, said the device was working correctly when Lipicky was injured. They called his death a "terrible accident."

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Wesley Lipicky. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends and the entire community. Based on what’s known at this time, all indications are that the partition was functioning properly and this was a terrible accident. We will continue to be a resource to the school in any way that we can," Modernfold's managing director, Bryan Welch, said in a statement.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission was investigating, and Virginia state officials said they would look into any other accidents involving room partitions.

In New York, the partitions have been linked to two deaths. Schools are required to install safety devices to stop the partitions if a body is detected between the device and a wall. Virginia education officials said they were not aware of any such requirements on the state level.

Lipicky's obituary appeared in The Washington Post.

"Wesley was such a wonderful son. It's hard to put into words how much he means to so many. He was an excellent student, a true friend to so many, a wildlife (especially penguins) lover, a teammate, companion, and the best son any parent could have ever hoped for. It's so hard to imagine a world without his glowing presence," it said.

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