Wake County schools say student safety is their paramount concern, and they have practices in place to protect against threats.
The school system reassured parents about the safety of their children in a letter Thursday, one day after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida.
In an email to The News & Observer, schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten laid out the steps schools take to keep students safe in emergencies.
In the case of an active shooter on campus, for example, a school will issue a “code red” lockdown. Students will be moved into “safe areas,” and all interior doors with be locked.
If something in the community might threaten a school – perhaps a bank robbery or police chase – the school will issue a “code yellow” lockdown. All outdoor activities will stop, and students will move into the building. Exterior doors will be locked and no one will be allowed to move between buildings, “but all other activities will continue as normal.”
A lockdown doesn’t end until a threat passes.
Buzz-in security systems
Within reason, each Wake school limits access to its buildings on a daily basis. “While each school campus is different, all have a detailed security plan for entrances and exits,” Luten said. “All schools limit the number of access points for exterior doors.”
All elementary schools in Wake have a security system in which visitors must be “buzzed in” to the building. Some middle schools and high schools have the buzz-in system, and Wake plans to install the security measure in all schools, Luten said.
All new schools are built with the buzz-in system.
Most high schools in Wake have at least 64 security cameras on campus, Luten said. More than half of the middle schools have at least 32 cameras, and all elementary and middle schools have at least 16 cameras.
Every Wake school has a safety plan, Luten said.
To put their planning to the test, the schools practice their emergency response procedures. “To prepare for the most critical emergencies, each school conducts at least one code red drill each year,” Luten said. “Everyone on campus participates in the code red drills, including students, staff and any guests on our campus at the time.”
Schools work closely with law enforcement, emergency management and school resource officers “to continuously review, evaluate and strengthen security at our schools,” Luten said.
Law enforcement and emergency responders have access to schools’ maps, site layouts and emergency operations, Luten said.
To keep sharp, teachers and staff get refresher training, Luten said. “Every staff member has basic lockdown training annually,” she said. “Key staff members have advanced lockdown training annually.”
Emergency team members at each school brush up annually on their emergency operations plan, and team members must earn certification in incident command training provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Identifying potential threats
Another way to keep students safe is to try to identify students who might cause their classmates harm, and the schools do that, Luten said. “The district’s school counselors and school psychologists provide staff training designed to identify students who are at risk of unsafe behavior early,” she said. “Each teacher learns the steps to take if they are concerned about a student.”
All of that planning, training and practice isn’t lost on Julie von Haefen, president of the Wake County PTA Council. “I truly believe that (the school system) considers safety as their highest priority,” she said. “As a parent of three school-aged children, I take comfort in knowing that they have instituted measures throughout the district to keep them as safe as they can.”
Tim Lavallee is also a parent and vice president of Policy and Research for the Wake Education Partnership. “I send my kids to a safe school every day,” he said.
Lavallee said he appreciated the training schools conduct in emergency response. “The staff is trained to deal with that,” he said. “The kids are similarly trained.”
Lavallee said he also appreciated safety measures in place in Wake schools. He pointed specifically to classroom doors that require one key to enter and one to leave. “It’s a key-in, key-out door,” he said. “Wake County public schools put the safety of students first.”
Von Haefen did call on state lawmakers to help schools better protect their students. “Districts across the state need more funding from the General Assembly for school counselors, who are on the front lines of monitoring student mental health,” she said. “Trained professionals in our schools are vital to spotting warning signs and helping kids.”
Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack