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Following incidents of school violence in the state and across the country, schools in North Carolina have reassessed their safety and security measures.
Some schools began their school safety initiatives this summer by meeting with parents, hosting online calls and implementing additional measures. For the most part, these security measures were put in place during the first week of school.
Counties take different approaches. From adding more School Resource Officers (SROs) to implementing new emergency alert systems, here’s a look at how four different school districts are preparing for the new school year.
School Resource Officers
According to National Association of School Resource Officersan SRO is “a carefully selected, specifically trained and properly equipped full-time law enforcement officer with sworn law enforcement authority, trained in school-based law enforcement and crisis response, assigned by the employing law enforcement agency to work in the school using community-oriented policing concepts.
According to the National Association of State Boards of Educationany North Carolina officer assigned as an SRO beginning in January 2020 must complete a School Resource Officer training course within one year of being assigned as an SRO.
According EdWeekapproximately 91% of SROs are armed, with most also carrying other restraints such as handcuffs.
The state legislature allocated more money to SROs this year. This includes investing $32 million in the School Safety Grant Program, including money for school safety training and school safety equipment. The Legislature also added $15 million for the School Resource Officer Grant Program. Another $26 million will go toward an allocation to help districts provide an ORS for each high school.
Robeson County Public Schools (PSRC) is one district implementing change. This fall, each school will have an SRO or shared SRO. According to Bobby Locklear, Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services, the PSRC is working to increase the number of SROs in its district, although there will not be a dedicated SRO in every school.
“With the addition of all officers, we decided to assign officers based on school affinity,” Locklear said.
This means that although some schools will not have ORS for the whole day, an agent will always be near the school.
Other districts like the Alamance-Burlington School System have made efforts to ensure that every school has an ORS. According to district public information officer Les Atkins, in the past some schools had only part-time staff, while others had full-time officers.
“That was really a priority this year — putting them in every school. So the board has earmarked $2.7 million to do that,” Atkins said. He said the district board used partnerships with local services, including the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department, Graham Police Department, Burlington Police Department and others.
These ORS will be paid for from school funds, but the respective law enforcement agency will provide the equipment. At the start of school last week, each school in Alamance-Burlington had its own SRO – except for the district’s virtual school and its first middle school, which is housed and secured at Alamance Community College. .
Other security measures at ABSS include security vestibules, additional cameras, etc. Security vestibules provide a secure area when visitors enter and check in with reception. Typically, some doors remain locked, so the only visitor access to the school is through the office. Atkins says these will provide an extra layer of protection when visitors enter the school.
Take the conversation online
Union County Public Schools (UCPS) hosted a safety and security update on its Facebook August 16 – about two weeks before school starts. The live stream received more than 7,000 views, with hundreds of parents and Union County residents engaging in the comments.
In the live stream, UCPS updated parents on its safety decision-making process. UCPS staff encouraged parents and students to submit advice on its hotline and Say something – an anonymous reporting line. UCPS is one of many districts adding additional ORS to its district. Each middle school and high school will have a dedicated SRO. There will also be a dedicated SRO for two elementary schools in the district.
The UCPS received several questions in the comments from parents. Questions included:
- Should teachers barricade doors and hide students or evacuate students during an active shooter situation?
- Will the school district allow armed volunteers (such as veterans) on campus for added security?
- Do principals and administrators actively check that exterior doors remain locked?
UCPS answered these and other questions during the live stream. The district said SROs and school staff are trained to “run, hide or fight” in the event of an active shooter situation. This means that if an active fire event were to occur, personnel should determine what action to take using the Run-Hide-Fight model.
Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Jarrod McCraw said volunteers are not allowed to carry weapons on school property. However, he encouraged those interested in volunteering to do so through other means.
A softer approach to school safety
In addition to hiring additional SROs and purchasing new safety equipment, some schools are taking softer approaches to the issue of school safety.
In its live stream, UCPS also discussed the importance of mental wellbeing and safety for students. Kasha Giddins, director of student support, said they offer a “tiered support system” for students through school counsellors, social workers and a partnership with the local health department which provides health therapists mental. Giddins shared that there will also be teletherapy available this fall for UCPS high school students.
“We know in the years of COVID there has been more trauma that has surfaced in our buildings, and so we want to be able to provide that multi-layered support for students so they can get the help they need, so they can be more productive while they’re in school,” Giddins said.
Atkins said ABSS is undertaking a $90,000 project to complete a crime prevention through environmental design study at all of its schools to determine what additional safety measures are needed.
In 2019, the PSRC set up a mental health team to help the district spot any signs of students who might need extra support. Jadell Dial Hawks, director of student services for the district, said she was able to identify student needs early on.
“We’ve certainly been able to discover and identify children early and have an early warning system about things and understand what needs to be in place for families to protect them,” Hawks said. .
Prioritize preparation and partnerships
Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Atkinson said increasing training and strengthening safety measures is a top priority. He said increasing safety also means considering the impact of human behavior on safety.
Atkinson said Bladen will increase its number of cameras and metal detectors on campus and perform additional bag checks. The Bladen County Sheriff’s Department completed additional active shooter training at Bladen Lakes Elementary School and West Bladen High School this summer.
Bladen County has approved SROs for every school in Bladen County, but there are not enough law enforcement officers available to fill those roles. SROs will continue to rotate in these schools until other SROs are hired.
Atkinson said increased preparedness through additional training and building community relationships is part of improving safety and security. Atkinson stressed that continuously re-evaluating his procedures and drills will help his school improve its preparation. He also stressed the importance of involving the local community in its preparations.
“We have to keep practicing and evaluating how we’re doing things and obviously any time you deal with safety it becomes a community concern,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson said churches and local businesses act as destination or evacuation points in the event of an emergency, so it’s important to include them in district preparedness plans.
Consider SROs as a resource
Districts stress the need for SROs to increase visibility on campus – one of the main benefits of having a dedicated SRO in schools.
Atkinson said it’s important for students to know that SROs are there for them.
“I have a greater sense of security, knowing the security measures we put in place and knowing that we have officers who are there to help with campus security, but also with training and helping to build those relationships. “, Atkinson said. “It’s not just about having a voice for safety, but their presence and this positive role model for students is important.”
Atkins shared a similar sentiment. He said building relationships with students is how SROs and school administrators can spot warning signs.
“Their role is really to bond with the students. So you’ll probably see an officer come out in the morning in line, you know, to greet the students. They might open the door, they might say hello to family members to get to know them, and the point of that is that they build that rapport with the students,” Atkins said.
Union County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chris Byram is an SRO at Weddington High School. He says SROs that develop a strong relationship with students allow students to feel a sense of security.
“Encourage your child to not only know who your school resource manager is, but to develop that relationship with a school resource manager,” he said. “They can go to someone they trust, someone they can buy from.”