Newtown shootings bring increased school security to NC
Posted December 11, 2013
Updated December 13, 2013
Durham, N.C. — After Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, killing 20 children and six adults, school leaders and politicians nationwide took a hard look at safety and security issues and asked how schools could be made safer.
Statistics show schools are already very safe, and school shootings are rare. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 to 2 percent of homicides among school-age children happen at or near schools.
Still, changes are happening slowly.
Sandy Ridge Elementary School in Durham opened three years ago with state-of-the art cameras and recently added double doors prevent visitors from walking directly into the school.
Principal John Colclough said the school district continually reviews safety measures, but the most critical aspect boils down to relationships. His staff has been working on building trust with students.
“I think, now more than ever, we have parents who understand about the security,” Colclough said. “They need to know who we are, the role we play and that they can come to us in any type situation.”
In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the Triangle’s smallest school district, vigilance is key.
“(We try) to make sure adults are in the hallway, to make sure we're monitoring and kids are telling us what they're hearing,” said Jeff Reilly, student resources coordinator for the district. "Kids, if they feel like there’s that relationship, they’re more likely to talk to staff and teachers."
The district recently completed an assessment of every school building and plans to add signs to help law enforcement with quick and easy identification, Reilly said. A new phone system will help emergency responders pinpoint 911 calls.
"Whether it's a lockdown or an intruder or medical emergency, those couple of minutes will make a difference between saving a life or not," he said.
The Newtown shootings prompted the Wake County Public School System, North Carolina's largest school district, to look at a range of changes. A school bond voters approved in October has nearly $8 million earmarked for security upgrades in elementary schools.
An initial proposal to place unarmed guards in schools created debate among county leaders. The proposal was shelved, but it ultimately led to greater conversation in the community. A task force studied the issue for months, and the school board is now considering recommendations.
"I think Sandy Hook really challenges communities to take a fresh look at school safety," Wake County Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Kushner said. "(We're) really looking at mental health issues for students (and) trying also to reduce suspensions."
In March, Gov. Pat McCrory created the Center for Safer Schools to study efforts across the country and serve as a resource for North Carolina districts. The group recently gave him a list of 80 recommendations, including the following:
Establish an anonymous reporting system.
Require all schools to have an updated safety plan.
Encourage all districts to participate in all-hazards training.
Develop alternatives to out-of-school suspensions.
Expand bullying prevention efforts.
The center also back a bill lawmakers approved this summer requiring all schools to give local law enforcement copies of keys as well as schematic drawings of buildings.
"Our responsibility here is to provide a safe place for students," Colclough said. "One of the most difficult pieces is balancing access with security, because schools are more than just a place where you educate. This is a place where the community comes together and meets, and that’s what we want it to be."
Sandy Ridge Elementary parents said they and their children understand the need for the changes and gladly accept them.
"It’s been an adjustment for parents who, like me, come regularly. It was open environment where parents were coming and going," Monique Talford said. "Now, it’s a little tougher (to get in), but anyone who is concerned about the safety of their children will accept that and step up to what the school needs in order to keep our kids safe."
Christine Hudelson said she and other parents no longer hold the school door open for people coming in behind them.
"It's really an emotional thing," Hudelson said. "I feel really good. It's a safe school, but you can't prevent everything."