Board of Education to review school safety

Group, faced with outdated survey, aims to address needs

lbonner@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2013 

The State Board of Education wants a fresh look at school safety measures in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Wayne McDevitt, the board’s vice chairman, wants the board to do all it can to make sure schools are safe.

“If this didn’t scar the soul of America, there’s something wrong with us,” McDevitt said of the mass shooting at the Connecticut elementary school last month, where 20 children and six employees were killed.

State information on school safety is mostly outdated. The Center for School Violence, created in the mid-1990s, used to survey schools on their safety practices.

The center was eliminated two years ago, said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction.

The center’s last survey, completed for 2008-2009, found that most middle and high schools had school resource officers, while 1 percent of elementary schools had officers and another 20 percent shared officers with other schools.

In 2011, the legislature repealed a law focused on handling disruptive students that required local districts to have school safety plans.

But the state Department of Public Instruction encourages safety goals be a part of school improvement plans.

The legislature is likely to take on the issue of school safety this session, said Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a school board member. The gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina is preparing to push for teachers to be able to bring guns to school.

Forest said in an interview he would support having an armed security officer at all schools. Forest, an architect, said his firm designed a lot of schools that have only one way to get in, “but that only gets you so far.”

Schools started taking safety precautions even before the Columbine school massacre in 1999, said Bill Harrison, State Board of Education chairman.

School entrances have been redesigned to have fewer ways to get in, he said, marking a big change from 25 years ago when schools were built to be accessible.

Schools have lockdown drills, and principals have special emergency kits with maps, parent contact information and communications equipment.

The state Office of Emergency Management is responsible for training schools, police and other emergency personnel for school emergencies, Atkinson said.

Patrice Faison, principal at Page High School in Greensboro, said her school was focused on safety before Newtown but afterward decided to lock all doors so people entering the building must go through the main office.

The school had been keeping some doors unlocked because students and staff must go outside to walk from the main building to other buildings on campus.

Since the shooting, an adult stands at the locked door to let people in and out.

“It’s inconvenient, but it’s an inconvenience that parents and teachers don’t mind,” she said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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