Raleigh, N.C. — The staff at Partnership Elementary in Raleigh knew just what to do last September when a fatal shooting at nearby Cameron Village prompted more than a dozen schools to go on lockdown as police searched for the gunman.
Parents were glad to know administrators were prepared with a plan to keep parents informed and help protect students in case a gunman got on campus.
But that's not the case at every North Carolina school, says Billy Lassiter, deputy director of the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools.
"We found some had crisis plans that were very old. Then, we found some districts that didn't have a very comprehensive plan," Lassiter said Thursday. "They had one for fires but not for active shooters."
Formed in March by Gov. Pat McCrory, the Center for Safer Schools examines school security programs across the nation and proposes legislation and policy changes to help safeguard children while they learn.
It's recommending that every school perform an overall assessment to determine its individual security needs.
"We're developing a checklist of items every school should have, whether it be security cameras, fencing, more secure doors or different locks on their doors," Lassiter said.
It's one of approximately 80 recommendations that will go to McCrory in the coming weeks as part of a report by the center based on six months of research and nine town hall meetings across the state.
"No school is going to be 100 percent, full-proof safe," Lassiter said. "I think parents should feel very confident sending their kids to school. We knew schools in North Carolina were already safe. This is going to make them safer."
The report, Lassiter says, will have recommendations for the governor and the General Assembly as well as the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, Department of Public Instruction, Department of Public Safety and Department of Health and Human Services.
"It's looking at mental health. It's looking at school security," Lassiter said. "It's also looking at instructional time kids have and how we can incorporate some character education components into that time also."
Legislation pushed by the Center for Safer Schools that has already been passed by the General Assembly means that, beginning with this school year, every school in the state must have a crisis plan.
Copies of schematic drawings of the schools, as well as copies of keys to all doors, must be given to local law enforcement agencies so that officers can get into a classroom or school immediately.
About $2 million is in the state budget to put panic buttons in every school by 2015.
Next month, the North Carolina State Board of Education will vote on how to dole out $7 million in grants to put more school resource officers in middle and elementary schools.
But parents, like Janele Royal, believe school safety precautions need to go beyond those types of measures.
"I think there's a lot of help needed in the mental health community rather than resource officers or things of that nature," she said.
That's why, Lassiter says, the Center for Safer Schools also pushed for legislation requiring school counselors and psychologists to spend at least 80 percent of their time working with students.
He says the center is taking a comprehensive approach and that, although all the recommendations won't be implemented right away, parents should know some changes have already occurred.
"Parents should go ahead and expect changes to be in place by the time the school starts this year," Lassiter said. "They’ll probably notice the crisis plan update. (Schools are) required to do school improvement plans with a safety aspect where parents are supposed to be brought into that process."