Safer Schools in North Carolina: What Parents Need to Know


Published:

Recent events, such as tornadoes in the Midwest and the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, have spurred the nation's school districts to re-examine school security procedures. North Carolina's schools are no exception to this movement.

Several North Carolina school districts have created committees to review school safety measures and the state government recently formed the N.C. Center for Safer Schools within the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

"Gov. McCrory set up the center in March of this year partly as a response to Sandy Hook in December and because there have been a lot of concerns brought to him about school safety in North Carolina," says Kym Martin, executive director of NCCSS.

Following months of gathering data from across the state, NCCSS representatives made recommendations to Gov. Pat McCrory on key areas of concern to North Carolina citizens. Martin says NCCSS identified the following as recurring themes:

- Physical security at schools.

- Mental health agencies and the need for collaboration with schools.

- Roles of school resource officers.

- Programs to involve parents, including dads and male caregivers.

- Trusted adult mentors for students.

- Creative ways to handle school suspension.

- Bullying and cyberbullying.

Bullying: a prime culprit

A common complaint among students across the country and in North Carolina is bullying. In 2009, about 28 percent of students nationwide ages 12-18 reported being bullied in school, according to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. Additionally, 6 percent reported being cyberbullied outside of school. "Students (across the state) talked about knowing someone who had been bullied or being bullied themselves, and some felt they had people they could turn to while others did not," Martin says.

Ben Matthews, director of Healthy and Safe Schools for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, says it's important for students to report bullying behavior when they see it.

"If we see a fellow student in crisis, we share that with an appropriate adult, be it a teacher or a counselor," he says, noting that the School Safety Act legislation currently making its way through the legislature includes recommendations for more school counselors and resource officers.

Existing measures

Current safety measures at North Carolina public schools include drills, such as lockdown procedures and fire drills; the use of surveillance cameras; and various types of visitor check-in systems. Middle, high and some elementary schools also have school resource officers. Lockdown procedures typically use codes (red, yellow and green) to communicate safety threats. See the box, "Tap into School Safety," for a detailed description and helpful links.

Schools also receive a Critical Incident Response Kit, which provides information and materials to help schools respond to a crisis.

Russ Smith, senior director of Wake County Public School System's security department, says the $810 million bond request from the Wake County Board of Commissioners planned for the October 2013 ballot includes a security element and is the only way to fund certain costly, systemwide security measures. WCPSS administrators are also working to develop a system for an anonymous tip line. "Every school administration should have the same tools in the toolbox to keep children as safe as possible," Smith says.

Durham Public Schools plans to send home a new parent guide this fall that specifically addresses what parents should know or do if there is an emergency at school, says Tamika Puckett, DPS's director of risk management.

Re-examining school safety

The Task Force for Creating Safer Schools in Wake County, created by WCPSS Board Chariman Keith Sutton in February, released a report in June that recommended making sure every school has a bullying prevention program, sufficient counseling staff, proper surveillance and a minimum of quarterly drills for evacuation and lockdown procedures. The task force did not recommend arming school staff members.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools formed the Superintendent's Safety Council to measure and improve campus security. This group includes chiefs of police from the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and expects to contract with a safety consultant.

"We believe our schools are safe places for children and staff," says Jeff Reilly, chairman of the CHCS Superintendent's Safety Council. "However, we will never rest on our safety record. We now, and always will, continue to seek out strategies that improve security at our schools."

Parent involvement is key

North Carolina officials say one of the best ways to create safer schools is for parents and students to get involved in school safety. Tina Ingram, DPS director of security, says it's important for parents to follow visiting procedures and to remember they can report information anonymously by text or online. "They (parents) are part of our safety plan," Ingram says.

Many schools use direct phone messaging systems to inform parents of standard announcements as well as critical information. CHCC Schools, DPS and WCPSS use email notification systems for alerts and closings. School systems often post to websites and social media as well.

"Talk with children about processes and procedures. Sign up for notification systems and make sure that the information is kept up to date and accurate," WCPSS's Smith says. "Our contacts are only as good as the information that parents provide."

Representatives of DPS and CHCC Schools echo that sentiment, saying it is integral to school safety for students to report dangerous situations. See "What Parents Should Say About School Safety" on page XX for more tips.

Carol McGarrahan is a Triangle area freelance writer and editor.

What Every Parent Should Say to Kids About School Safety

- Explain the facts about school safety and the steps schools are taking.

- Explain the odds. The chances of being killed in schools are less than one in a million.

- Explain that everyone has a responsibility for making schools safe — even children.

- Explain that violence is not an acceptable solution.

- Ask questions about how your child feels about her school's safety. Are there places at school she avoids because she feels unsafe? Actively listen to her answers and follow up with the school to find out what is being done to solve the problem.

Visit ncdps.gov and search for N.C. Center for Safer Schools for a more detailed list of suggestions.

Tap into School Safety: Helpful Resources

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – CHCC Schools uses Blackboard Connect to make automated telephone calls and send emails providing community event reminders, important parent and staff messages, attendance notifications, and emergency communications. Parents automatically subscribe to Blackboard Connect when they give contact information to their child's school.

Durham Public School System – DPS offers a ConnectEd Notification System (a phone communication service), a parent hotline at 919-560-9129 and DPS Cable Channel 4 to communicate information. The school system also uses local radio and television station broadcasts to notify parents of important information and offers a weather/closing email alert service at dpsnc.net/forms/weather-closing-alert-email-sign-up.

Wake County Public School System – WCPSS offers an email notification service parents can sign up for at www.wcpss.net/parents/stay-informed.html.

WCPSS administration and individual schools have automated calling systems using contact numbers provided to schools. Messages pertain to school absences, emergencies and other announcements.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction – dpi.state.nc.us

North Carolina Center for Safer Schools – ncdps.gov

The Lowdown on Lockdown

If there is a potential threat of an unsafe situation to your child's school, the school may go on "lockdown" to protect students, staff and visitors. For example, here is how the code system for Wake County Public Schools works:

- Code Red: Indicates an immediate threat and requires students to be moved into safe areas. All interior and exterior doors are locked.

- Code Yellow: If there is a nearby community threat, such as a bank robbery or police chase in the neighborhood, all outdoor activities stop and students move into the building. Outer doors are locked and movement between buildings is prohibited, but all other activities continue as normal.

- Code Green: Indicates that the incident has passed and the lockdown has ended.

There is currently no set standard for how lockdown procedures should be carried out.

"This will be something the Department of Public Safety through our Emergency Management Division and the Center for Safer Schools will be trying to establish," says William Lassiter, deputy director for the N.C. Center for Safer Schools. "The national system recommended by the Department of Homeland Security is moving away from codes and plans to use plain English instead."

So if a school must go into lockdown mode, Lassiter says, school officials should simply announce this and provide instructions to staff, students and parents. He advises parents to ask for a copy of their child's school's procedures, since these can vary from district to district.

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January Story Time, Puppet Show &  Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic Aesop fable The Lion and the Mouse. Activities include a story time,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Hillsborough Library
137 West Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Main Library
Telephone: 919-245-2525
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
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Puppet Show Inc. presents a re-telling of Aesop’s Fable, “The Lion and the Mouse.”   A make and take craft will follow the show.  No registration necessary.  Ages 4 and up with a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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Do you see strange lights in the night sky? Are you hearing odd noises coming from your tool shed? Is your dog now afraid to venture in the back yard? Don’t be scared — it might just be a...

Cost: $2 members, $5 non members

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 West Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Contact Name: Hugo Romero Sanchez
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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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It's your last chance to catch the Wolfpack at home this season! Help RED OUT Duke by wearing your favorite RED NC State Gear to the meet. The first 300 fans will receive an exclusive RED OUT...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center
2611 Cates Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27695
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Preschoolers (ages 3-5 with an adult) learn what wild animals do in winter by pretending to be animals that hibernate, migrate or just stay warm in the cold, winter woods! Take a hike, do a craft,...

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Explore nature through play!  The Main Library is partnering with local Tinkergarten leaders Heather Murphy and Kate MacCartney to bring the fun of nature indoors.  Join us as we investigate...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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January Story Time, Puppet Show & Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic Aesop fable The Lion and the Mouse. Activities include a story time,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carrboro Library
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Inside McDougle Middle School
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Carrboro Branch Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
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Want a wild start to your new year?When you’re facing the after-holiday blues after packing up the decorations and taking down the tree, never fear. Come celebrate the new year in a thrilling,...

Cost: $20 - $26

Where:
Animal Park at the Conservators Center
676 E Hughes Mill Rd
Burlington, NC  27217
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Sponsor: Animal Park at the Conservators Center
Telephone: 336-421-0883
Contact Name: Taylor Sharp

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
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Family Wildlife Series: Owl Prowl Saturday, January 18, 6-7:15 p.m. Venture into the night on a Blue Jay hike.  Learn about owl habits and adaptations as we listen for these nocturnal birds....

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.