LUMBERTON — Robeson County elected officials and school administrators are looking for ways to ensure that local schools are not the site of a school massacre like the one that took place in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
“Public Schools of Robeson County administrators, staff and school resource officers will remain on high alert due to recent events,” interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten said. “We will continue to review and revise school safety plans, use metal detectors intermittently and practice safety drills.”
Wooten surveyed the county’s 41 public schools after the Florida shooting and found 17 critical areas that need improvement. She believes that the No. 1 obstacle to school safety is funding for equipment and resource officers.
Among the deficiencies Wooten identified is there are 23 school resource officers for 41 schools. The county’s public schools spent $1.2 million in state money for 21 resource officers and uses a grant for two more positions at elementary schools.
Wooten discovered some school campuses are not secure. Some entry doors are unlocked or not monitored. Many classrooms lack intercoms. Some campuses lack adequate video surveillance systems. Visitors have unimpeded access to many schools and playgrounds. Metal detectors are lacking in many schools and unused in others. Buildings, campuses and playgrounds are not designed with security in mind.
Schools have lockdown policies to respond to active shooters or other emergencies on campus, but not all have practiced emergency drills this year, Wooten learned. Better communications and safety education are needed.
While gun control and gun rights debates rage nationally after every mass shooting, areas of agreement are emerging locally regarding school safety, including having armed resource officers in every school.
Democratic state Rep. Charles Graham told The Robesonian after the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida that he is opposed to arming teachers, but in favor of placing trained and armed resource officers in every school.
Republican state Sen. Danny Britt has two school-aged children and is pro-gun, but he is hopeful about improving school safety in Robeson County.
“As a result of the tragic events in Florida, (state Rep.) Brenden Jones and I have met and discussed the vast changes that are needed to be made to better treat, identify and care for individuals suffering from mental health issues,” Britt posted on Facebook. “I have sought input of law enforcement, school administrators, parents and educators.
“We must find a better way to identify the individuals who need help and we need to closely monitor their social media. We also need to ensure there is adequate funding for metal detectors, and armed and well-trained school resource officers at our schools.
“We are exploring the funding availability to ensure what needs to be done to provide a safe learning environment.”
Jones, who represents parts of eastern Robeson County, was appointed recently to a legislative committee on school violence.
School board Chairperson Peggy Wilkins Chavis said it is time to address the fundamentals of school safety.
Every classroom door should have a lock, and every classroom should have an intercom, she said. Every school building should have secure check-in for visitors through locked doors.
“We must create an environment where our children feel safe at school,” said Chavis, who was a teacher for 38 years. “We met last week and will check all the schools.”
She said she will seek additional security equipment and resource officers for all Robeson County schools, she said. The school system in the past has asked the county Board of Commissioners to pay for an security officer in every school, but was denied.
Shanita Wooten surveyed 15 areas of campus safety. Forty schools responded to her survey. Among the findings were:
— Ten schools have conducted random searches of desks, lockers and vehicles during this school year.
— Twenty-six schools have a written plan for a chemical, biological or radiological incident.
— Thirty-one schools use security cameras to monitor or restrict students and visitors.
— Thirty-seven schools have conducted drills using crisis plans.
— Thirty-four schools control access to school buildings by locking and monitoring doors during school hours.
— Thirty-one schools have secure and updated classroom rosters, floor plans, school schedules, staff lists with room assignments and medication lists.
— Seven schools require faculty and staff to wear picture IDs.
— Nineteen schools strictly enforce a dress code.
— Twenty-eight said a school resource officer or other security or law enforcement personnel were on campus once a week.
— Thirty schools said exterior doors were locked to limit access to the campus.
— Thirty-nine schools have a written crisis plan.
— Three schools require students to wear badges or picture IDs.
— Three schools perform random metal detector drills.
— Thirty-eight schools have a written plan for bomb threats.
— Thirty-two schools monitor doors and gates to limit access to school.
— All schools reviewed emergency procedures in February.
— Thirty-six schools have a written plan covering actions to be taken in the event of a school shooting.
— Twenty-four schools have not conducted planned lockdown drills this year. Eleven schools have had one drill and six have had two drills.
Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]