This week, Scotland County Board of Education board member Paul Rush called for more discussion on school security.
A number of local parenmts have voiced concerns in the wake of December’s Newtown, Conn. school shooting.
Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Larry Johnson briefed the board Monday on security measures in place in the public schools.
School system staff have implemented quarterly safety meetings with local law enforcement, and classrooms in each school are prepared to go into lockdown. In addition, all but three schools are equipped with keyless entry systems, where everyone entering a school building must first be identified by the front office staff. Board member Pat Gates, a retired school principal, spoke to the efficacy of keyless systems.
“Since we’ve gotten the keyless entry, the people in the front office are very cognizant of the people who come through the front door,” said Gates. “If they are not knowledgeable of what a face looks like, they know the questions to ask and they will ask those questions.”
Installation of keyless entry at Shaw Academy, Pate-Gardner Elementary School, and I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School is underway and expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Johnson also floated the idea of perimeter walls at schools, to be partially funded by an overbudgeting of the cost to add new classrooms and a gymnasium at Wagram Primary. That project will come in at about $115,000 under the budgeted cost.
A proposed brick and cinderblock wall at Scotland High School would cost $195,000. Johnson also proposed similar walls at I.E. Johnson, North Laurinburg, and Shaw Academy.
Rush questioned whether the money spent on building walls would effect a commensurate return in protecting students.
“You see these horrendous acts in a situation where we don’t allow weapons, yet that’s what’s taking our children’s lives,” Rush said. “I think we at least owe it to ourselves to discuss what it means to protect our children. Does keyless entry really work… I think as a board and as a community at some point we need to have that discussion.”
“I guess the ideal situation would be to have a resource officer in every school,” responded board member Darwin Williams, a lieutenant with the Laurinburg Police Department.
Superintendent Rick Stout also spoke in favor of placing armed security staff in school buildings.
“We have a number of procedures that are in place for the interior of the building when we do have an incident happen, but does that really stop an intruder like we had in Newtown?,” Stout asked. “We know it doesn’t, and I’m kind of in agreement that unless you have somebody armed within that school, nobody can be safe when those types of things happen or prevent mass casualties from happening. Our laws are going to have to change, and there’s going to have to be major discussion within our communities to make something like that come forth.”
Stout also said that metal detectors will be utilized more frequently on the campus of Scotland High School.
“We’ve got metal detectors that we haven’t been using appropriately, and we’re going to start using our metal detectors and we’re going to start using our wands,” said Stout. “We don’t want the public to be scared, but we want to make sure that those people that are going into our schools, especially our high schools and especially with the violence that we’ve had in our community from time to time, we’re going to check that our schools are clean. Our metal detectors are there for a reason. We’re not going to do it all the time, but we’re going to use it periodically.”
In other business, the board approved a change in the mobile dental care provider contracted to serve students during school time. The former provider, Smile NC, referred some 30 percent of students to dentists for further care, while Friendly Dental Van, based in Charlotte, refers fewer than 10 percent of the students it sees.
The board also voted in support of a N.C. School Boards Association resolution opposing the transfer of school property to counties. The 2013-2014 legislative goals of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners includes a clause that provides counties with the option to acquire, own, and construct public school facilities.
“The North Carolina General Statutes make clear that the powers of general control and supervision of school systems are vested in the local boards of education for obvious reasons, not the boards of county commissioners,” said Nick Sojka, school board attorney. “For this change to go into effect would blur the lines of authority and create implementation problems including, at a minimum, who would employ the personnel to maintain the schools.”
No relevant legislation is pending at this time, and the Scotland County Board of Commissioners have not discussed the matter.
In other business, Pam Lewis, a member of Sandhills Leadership Academy’s Cohort II, gave a presentation on the program. SLA is funded through a Race to the Top grant awarded to the Sandhills Education Regional Consortium, and provides educators with an alternative route to becoming a school administrator. I.E. Johnson assistant principal Barbara Adams is a graduate of SLA Cohort I.
“The Sandhills Leadership Academy is a change agent, and it is miraculous what they can do in a year,” Lewis said. “Sandhills Leadership Academy gives you the intellectual component of a university, but the best thing about the program is it gives you that experience where we get to go out and actually see what they’re telling us… That’s a very important piece of this program, that we have a principal that we can be elbow to elbow with and learning side by side.”
A former Scotland County Teacher of the Year, Lewis was the recommended to the academy by the school board. She has been shadowing Scotland High School principal Beth Ammons this school year.