School officials focus on improving security measures

Published 5:22 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Principals from the various Carter County schools met Wednesday morning to discuss school safety measures and how to improve them.

The Carter County School System regularly holds meetings with the principals. For Wednesday’s meeting, Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward invited Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford and officers from his department to speak to the principals about safety protocols already in place and things the Sheriff’s Department is working to implement.

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At the start of the meeting, Ward stressed the importance of following safety protocols regardless of how inconvenient or unnecessary they may seem, particularly when it comes to securing the school grounds.

“I want those gates shut, and I want those gates locked,” Ward said. “If I find your gate open, we are going to have a very serious talk.”

“I am not saying this is not being done, but I am saying, very clearly, that I want this done,” he added.

Ward then shared a recent experience he had at one of the schools where he tried to gain access to a building through a locked side door. After Ward knocked on the door, he said a teacher asked who was there and when he responded with his name the teacher replied: “I don’t know you.” Within a less than a minute, Ward said the school’s principal was at the door check to see who was there. The teacher had notified the principal that someone was trying to make entry to the school through the locked door.

“That teacher did the right thing,” Ward said.

According to Ward, the school system has a lot of good measures in place to help protect students and staff, but he said there is always room to improve and make the facilities even safer.

During the meeting, Ward also addressed an aspect of the recent school shooting in Florida that he feels should be considered as the school system works to update and improve safety plans. According to reports on the Florida shooting, the shooter pulled a fire alarm in the building, which caused students and staff to pour into the hallways to evacuate the building.

The schools need to look at how they respond to fire alarms and find a procedure for school officials to confirm if there is truly a fire or if the alarm was pulled for another reason.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford also addressed the fire alarm issue and suggested that if when teachers hear the fire alarm if they look outside of their classrooms and don’t see fire or smoke, they should hold off evacuating until receiving a confirmation that evacuation is needed.

Lunceford and CCSO Chief Deputy James Parrish spoke to the principals regarding technology the Sheriff’s Department is working to develop in cooperation with Sprint that will improve how school staff can report incidents to law enforcement and how officers can receive the information they need when responding to a critical incident at a school.

“We are working on a new program that will be a flagship program with Spring,” Lunceford said. “There is nothing like this out there. I suspect we will get national exposure from this.”

Both Lunceford and Parrish encouraged the principals to report any threats or suspicious activity to law enforcement as quickly as possible, no matter how insignificant it might seem, so that officers can investigate and hopefully stop a critical incident from happening.

“If you see something, say something,” Lunceford said. “But don’t repeat anything you see or hear on social media. It doesn’t benefit anyone.”

In his capacity at the Sheriff’s Office, Parrish said he works with other law enforcement agencies across the state, and Carter County has some of the best security protocols in place at the schools, including the number of School Resource Officers in place.

“There is no school system that is more concerned with student safety that Carter County,” Parrish said. “This is the most aggressive and funded SRO program in the state. No other SRO program in the state has an officer at every school.”

With the recent addition of a new SRO position, the Sheriff’s Department now has enough SRO positions in place to have an officer at each of the county’s 15 schools. The Sheriff’s Department and school system are currently working to secure funding to add a 16th position which would serve as a floating supervisor who would visit all the locations and could fill in for officers who are out sick, on vacation, or having to testify in court on a case.