Triangle schools look to boost security following Sandy Hook shooting

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 13, 2013 

One year after a gunman showed that elementary schools aren’t immune from school violence, Triangle officials have been moving to control how people can enter schools.

Security cameras, buzzer systems and locked front doors are becoming more common as security measures at elementary schools in the Triangle and across the nation. It’s part of the legacy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut one year ago Saturday. A gunman fatally shot 20 students and six adults.

“Sandy Hook brought a lot of awareness about safety, especially at elementary schools and middle schools,” said Tamika Puckett, director of risk management services for Durham Public Schools. “Just like Columbine did for high schools. The focus has to be on preparedness.”

After the Sandy Hook shooting, school officials around the country formed task forces to study what additional security measures could be implemented.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory formed the N.C. Center for Safer Schools to look at school safety programs across the country and see what the state could learn. He also formed the Task Force on Safer Schools that held its first meeting this month.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved $7 million for school districts to hire more resource officers in elementary and middle schools. Legislators also allocated $2 million to install panic buttons in every school in the state by 2015.

A common theme from the various groups was to control access.

Durham school officials finished installing a buzzer entry system at all elementary and middle schools, a process that began before Sandy Hook but was completed during the past year. Tina Ingram, director of security for Durham Public Schools, said it’s up to each school to decide when to unlock the front doors.

Wake County school officials will spend $7.5 million for security upgrades that include:

• Making sure there’s a minimum of 64 security cameras at each high school, 32 cameras at each middle school and 16 cameras at each elementary school.

• Installing a card access system at all elementary schools.

• Installing an entrance buzzer system at every elementary school, including electronic door locks, a security camera and an intercom.

School officials linked the funding to the $810 million school construction bond issue approved by voters in October. It’s uncertain when the upgrades will be installed.

Renee McCoy, a Wake schools’ spokeswoman, said the upgrades are being factored into a review of recommendations made by a school district safety task force. The task force found that security standards varied too widely across schools.

Stephen Denoy, a Holly Springs parent of two elementary school students, has spoken with Wake school officials about the schedule for implementing the upgrades. He complains that the district doesn’t have a transition plan for boosting security until the new measures are added.

“Parents think security has increased,” Denoy said. “It’s a false sense of security.”

Denoy suggests that school PTAs consider raising money to install the security upgrades on their own. He’s also urging parents to volunteer at schools to handle the check-in of visitors, especially at schools that are too short-staffed to do the job.

“If something does happen, people will be kicking themselves,” Denoy said. “I don’t want to be the person whose kids get hurt.”

School officials in Johnston County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro said they don’t have plans as of now to install buzzer systems at every elementary school, although some individual schools do have them.

“Every school’s need is different,” said Tracey Jones, a Johnston County schools’ spokeswoman.

Even with all the upgrades, school officials say what’s still crucial is good communication to identify potential threats.

“There is no device that’s 100 percent,” said Ingram, the Durham County schools security director. “So we have to be prepared. We have to work with the community and the parents to be part of the plan.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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