Education

Security beefed up at NC schools after Connecticut shootings

Posted December 17, 2012 12:27 p.m. EST
Updated May 10, 2013 5:18 p.m. EDT

— Many school systems tightened security Monday in an effort to make parents and students feel more secure in the wake of Friday's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

Twenty first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were gunned down in their classrooms by a heavily armed man. Six members of the school staff, the gunman and his mother also died in the rampage.

"It was really hard this morning bringing my son here. I had a lot of mixed feelings whether or not he would be safe," said Mary Ann Monson, whose son attends Cameron Park Elementary School in Hillsborough. "I was relieved to know that the sheriff's department had people here on site that would be able to protect our children."

An Orange County deputy or Hillsborough police officer will be posted at every elementary school in the Orange County Schools district this week, and Superintendent Patrick Rhodes said principals were reviewing their crisis plans.

Brian Matthews, who has a first- and fourth-grader at Cameron Park Elementary, said he was pleased by the district's proactive response to the situation but said he knows the added security won't last.

"With the county's current budget situation (and) the city's budget situation, is it really feasible and possible for a full-time officer to be at every elementary school?" Matthews said. "The sad reality of it is, it’s probably not."

The Wake County Sheriff's Office and area police departments beefed up patrols near area elementary and middle schools, even though Interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey told school board members and district staff over the weekend that he wanted schools to remain in their routine and not take steps that would heighten student anxiety.

"My biggest worry is that, at the end of the day, children will be scared about school," Gainey said Monday.

After parents questioned the muted response, however, the Wake County Public School System posted an open letter to parents Monday on its website, stating that the security team and district leaders are reviewing emergency operation plans and procedures. Gainey also said in the letter that principals will review their individual site plans as well.

The superintendent noted that the district on Friday provided school leaders with tips for dealing with students in the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings. Local principals and teachers also crafted their own responses, sometimes reaching out to families by voicemail or email.

"(The teacher) did say she wouldn't bring it up unless the child did but would respond if the children needed," said Becky Lieneman, whose daughter attends A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh.

Other area districts also took a measured response to the tragedy.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats sent a phone message to parents over the weekend to reassure them about the safety of local schools and to offer tips about discussing the Newtown shootings with their children. Counselors also were available Monday at Durham schools for students.

Cumberland County Schools Associate Superintendent Betty Musselwhite said materials were sent to principals and teachers on how to address the concerns of parents and students of a school shooting. Also, principals recently had a roundtable discussion of how to handle crisis situations, she said.

A spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools said guidance counselors were on hand Monday to help any child struggling with the shootings, but no changes have been made to the security measures.

Superintendent Emily Marsh issued a statement Monday to the parents of students at U.S. Department of Defense schools at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and other North Carolina bases that principals and school administrators will review their security measures and crisis procedures.

Though public access to military bases is typically restricted, the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, showed they are not immune to violence.

Marsh said keeping classrooms safe and secure must be the first priority. She says she welcomes suggestions from parents on how to enhance security at on-base schools.

Gainey said that law enforcement agencies will likely share lessons learned from the tragedy once the investigation is complete, and school districts will then implement any needed security changes.