School system: We need your help to make schools safer
CHINA GROVE — Local officials urged parents Wednesday to stay involved in their children’s lives and schools at an information session about school safety.
Between 50 and 75 parents attended part two of “Keeping Our Children Safe” at Jesse C. Carson High School. That’s about half the number that attended part one, which focused on bullying.
The series is part of the Parents Matter Program, intended as a continuing effort to stay connected with parents.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom asked each person there to reflect on his or her part in increasing school safety.
“It’s not something just the schools can do. I wish it were, but it’s not,” Grissom said. “I’m asking all of you - all of the parents, staff and everybody in the community — to work with us to help make the schools a safer place.”
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten started the session by talking about safety procedures. He said shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Virginia Tech have drawn attention to school security.
The sheriff said local law enforcement now uses a rapid deploy process to make sure that the closest responders are the first ones on the scene of an emergency.
He also said the Rowan-Salisbury School System has simplified its lockdown codes to just two — yellow, when classes continue as normal behind locked doors, and red, when there is an emergency situation. Two lockdown drills are conducted each school year.
Law enforcement recommended a lockdown after the Sandy Hook shooting because officials had heard of threats.
He said threats had come up at 12 or 14 schools. They were all empty, and some weren’t even intended as threats, but law enforcement officials wanted to be proactive, Auten said.
He encouraged parents to be proactive as well.
“Know what’s on their computer,” he said. “Kids will post something, leave it up for 30 minutes so a few people can see it, then take it down. ... That’s how a lot of the rumors start.”
Carson High School Principal Kelly Withers spoke more in-depth about student safety on social media.
Withers said 73 percent of teenagers aged 12 to 17 use social networking sites. Children aged 2 to 11 comprise nearly 16 million or 9.5 percent of the active online universe.
Withers said most reports to the school of online bullying are on Facebook and Twitter, she said, but parents should be aware of another new social networking application.
“Most of our kids have SnapChat accounts, and they talk about them frequently,” Withers said. “They say they send fun pictures of each other, but there’s potential for bullying or other pictures on there as well.”
On SnapChat, people can take a photo and send it to someone else, who can only see the photo for 10 seconds before it is deleted. The messages leave no trace on either phone. If the receiver takes a screenshot, the app notifies the sender.
Withers said children and teenagers are starting to use the app to send out inappropriate photos of themselves and others, without leaving visible proof.
“We have to try to stay on top of it and constantly talk to our students about what they’re using,” Withers said. “As parents, it’s essential to talk to your children about the technology they have.”
Withers also addressed a Jan. 31 early dismissal at Carson that happened after a power outage. She said that when students began texting and posting about the outage on Twitter and Facebook, the school’s front office was flooded with phone calls from parents.
As a result, Withers said, school officials had a hard time contacting the administrative staff they needed to talk to before deciding whether to close or continue classes.
Withers encouraged parents to let school administrators make their decisions so they can get information back to parents sooner.
Wednesday’s information session was originally scheduled for that evening, but it was postponed because the school was closed. The first session was held Jan. 10.
Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller said Wednesday that the school system has created a committee to study how to make its schools safer. The group has met twice already and plans to meet a third time later this month.
Miller said the committee has recommended that all elementary and school systems be equipped with a door buzzer system with video and audio.
“We’re working on security systems that will allow our middle schools and elementary schools to remain locked,” Miller said. “We’re estimating that the cost to do this is $120,000 to $160,000, and that is in our capital outlay budget this year.”
Two such systems are already in place at Hurley Elementary School and Henderson Independent High School, he said. Other similar systems are found at Bostian, Knollwood and China Grove elementary schools.
Equipping the high schools and Knox Middle School with those systems would be very expensive, he said, because they have multiple buildings. The committee is trying to find other options for them.
The school system also is including $120,000 in its budget to install exterior speakers at all of its schools so their announcements can be heard outside. Miller said it also wants to spend $21,000 on exterior lighting and $6,000 on security-related signage.
In addition, the committee is looking at getting new keys and locks, adding a school resource officer to each middle and elementary school, improving front office coverage, clarifying system-wide policies, expanding the schools’ exterior camera systems and addressing mental health concerns.
Everyone in attendance Wednesday had the chance to sign a banner pledging to help make Rowan-Salisbury Schools safer for students.
Signatories included Cheryl Oster and her son Sam, a fifth-grade student at Shive Elementary School. Oster said school safety is a big concern for her.
“I was happy to hear all the things they are trying to install for security,” Oster said. “It’s too easy for somebody to get into the schools.”
Sisters-in-law Maria Diaz and Leticia Elias attended the session together because they both have children at Norwood Elementary School. Through interpreter Miriam Bosso, they said they’re glad they came.
“I was very concerned about what happened in Connecticut and wanted to know what they are doing about it,” Diaz said. “I’m very happy to hear that they are implementing and coming up with specific things.”
Elias said she wanted to learn about security-related rules at the schools.
“I was very interested to hear all of the uses of Facebook and Twitter, because sometimes we don’t know what our kids are doing,” she said.
Diaz said she was disappointed that there weren’t more parents present.
“They’re saying they’re so concerned,” she said, “but they do not take the time to come.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.