21 June 2022
Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Public School System is continuing to update its safety policies after an audit last year found room for improvement.
On Tuesday, Senior Security Director Russ Smith told the school board the school system already had several measures in place before the audit.
For years, the school system has conducted annual security reviews at every school and requires school employees to be trained on their school emergency plans every year.
For the future, the school system is planning a uniform visitor policy for every school. Right now, visitors must check in at the front desk of every school. The school system is now also checking sex offender registries as a part of the review staff do when a visitor arrives at the school.
School board members wanted the update Tuesday after receiving questions from constituents about school safety protocols following the deadly mass shooting that killed elementary school students and educators in Uvalde, Texas. The suspect, a former student, had suggested a planned attack in a social media post, made private threats, had a history of concerning behavior and was bullied and teased in school, according to several media reports.
The May 24 incident is the latest among years of mass school shootings that have occurred for decades in the United States and is no longer the latest mass shooting in the nation. While remaining relatively rare, the indiscriminate nature of mass shootings has left people demanding action to prevent them and fearful the next one could affect them.
“Sometimes I worry someone will come into my school with a gun,” Claire Stoeckel, a fifth-grader at Oak Grove Elementary School, told the school board Tuesday during public comment. Her school has no good places to hide from shooters during Code Red drills. Her friend struggles to hide in her school’s trailer classrooms that are in place to address overcrowding issues.
“The fact that people go into schools and kill kids is absolutely unacceptable,” said Emily Mead, a fourth grader at Turner Creek Elementary School who spoke with Claire. “This must stop. Schools should have more resources to stop this. Students are in terror because of this. No one knows when the next one will be and where it will be. The fact that students have to live in fear is unfair.”
Emily and Claire asked the school board to help prevent shootings.
“We can’t just think that hiding from this problem will help it,” Claire said. “It seems that all of the adults who are supposed to help us are ignoring us.”
They recommended the school board “spend more money to help kids who are having a hard time,” push for action that would place more oversight on gun purchases and to take an interest in the upcoming Wake County Sheriff runoff election, as many of the school resource officers come from the county sheriff’s office.
A WRAL News poll this month found that 51% of North Carolinians were at least somewhat concerned about themselves or loved ones becoming mass shooting victims. Meanwhile, 43% were either not very worried or not at all worried and 5% were unsure.
Preparation for active shooters
Criticism of law enforcement response in Uvalde prompted school board members to ask about how response might be coordinated here.
Smith said the area law enforcement agency — the town in which the emergency is occurring — would take the lead, though many or all of Wake County’s law enforcement agencies may be called to respond.
“It would be clear who is in charge,” Smith said.
Each school must conduct at least one active shooter drill every year, as required by law. Smith also emphasized the presence of 76 school resource officers on campuses who must take crisis intervention training, though he acknowledged turnover issues with school resource officers related to law enforcement agency staffing issues. School resource officers are present at every middle school and high school and just a couple of elementary schools.
The Wake County Board of Education approved renewing contracts for 24 officers Tuesday night.
School resource officers, critics have noted, didn’t prevent school shootings in Uvalde or the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The $775,000 the school system will spend on the 24 school resource officers could fund 10 student support staff — such as social workers and nurses — that make schools safer, Kris Nordstrom, an education policy analyst, told the school board Tuesday.
More safety measures
The school board signed a contract in March with the School Safety Advocacy Council to plan to address seven priorities through plans developed this summer.
Those seven issues are:
- Prioritizing safety matters to address, beginning this spring
- Developing visitor management policy and procedures
- Creating a district school-resource officer leadership committee
- Updating the district’s emergency plan
- Forming a school safety training and professional development plan
- Starting a team for “mental health threat assessment”
- Rewriting the district’s “reunification” plan for students and parents/guardians during an emergency
The school system has already begun some of those measures, including updating visitor management protocols to screen for sex offenders.
Those priorities are based on the safety audit completed last fall.
School board members commissioned the safety audit in 2019. The audit itself is largely concealed from public view to prevent disclosure of any vulnerabilities in safety. But auditors released a brief report on recommendations for the school system to consider.