Wake school safety task calls for more counselors

khu@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

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    In other action Tuesday, the Wake County school board:

    • Heard a staff proposal to restrict the use of out-of-school suspensions for some low-level disciplinary offenses.

    Under the proposal, students would only receive in-school suspensions for infractions such as skipping class, showing disrespect to a school employee, using inappropriate language and having a cell phone on during the school day. The exception would be if the student committed the same offense three times in a semester.

    All of Wake’s principals will be briefed on the proposal Thursday.

    • Approved selling the former Forest Ridge High School site on Forestville Road in northeast Raleigh for $3.8 million. Although the amount is $900,000 less than its cost in 2008, board members said they can use the money to buy other sites for more needed new schools.

    • Approved offering school bus drivers an attendance bonus of up to $1,000 for the 2013-14 school year. The program, which would cost up to $1.1 million, is designed to put more buses on the road.

    • Approved offering a $100 bonus to bus drivers who refer a new driver who is hired. It’s part of an effort to add 104 new bus drivers for this fall.

— A task force recommended Tuesday hiring more counselors but not letting school employees or volunteers carry weapons in Wake County schools.

The group’s study and report came in response to the December school shootings in Connecticut.

The task force spent several months reviewing security plans in Wake’s 169 schools leading to 15 recommendations for how to make schools safer in North Carolina’s largest school system. The recommendations cover a wide range of areas and are designed to try to centralize how security is handled.

“You’ve got to be consistent with security,” said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, who co-chaired the task force with retired Raleigh Police Capt. Al White. “If you’re not, you’re going to be in trouble.”

The recommendations include:

• Making sure every school has a bullying prevention program and restorative justice programs such as peer mediation.

• Making sure every school has a full-time staff that includes counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses.

• Providing a way for first responders to have remote access to school surveillance cameras.

• Performing evacuation and lockdown drills at every school no less than quarterly.

• Not allowing anyone other than certified law enforcement officers within their jurisdiction to possess a firearm at a school.

While not officially part of the recommendations, Harrison said, one idea the school system might want to consider is having its own police force, similar to what’s done in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

School board chairman Keith Sutton formed the task force in the aftermath of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which a gunman killed 20 children and six school employees.

Since December, one of the most hotly debated discussion around the country is whether armed personnel, including police or volunteers, should be placed in elementary schools. Wake, like many North Carolina school systems, only has armed officers at middle schools and high schools through agreements with local law enforcement agencies.

Members of the task force who work with suspended and arrested Wake students said the recommendations are a good start. But they said the task force fell short in not discussing the role of school policing.

“The reality is that having police in schools does not always create a safer environment,” said Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services and a task force member, in a written statement.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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