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School safety measures discussed

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A meeting about school safety became heated at times on Monday night as more than 70 people gathered at Nash Central Middle School to discuss ways to protect students.

Dr. Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, led the discussion, which focused on protecting students at school facilities and the handling of discipline issues in the school district. Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone also spoke at the meeting, and a number of parents and community members also shared concerns, oftentimes leading to passionate outpourings of emotion.

“It is very intense in here tonight,” one parent said

As one community member suggested improving the barriers to school facilities, Stone said he did not feel that was the ultimate answer to improving school safety. Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools already has spent a great deal of money over the past few years improving security measures and limiting access, but Stone said there are limits to what can be done.

“There is really no way to seal off a school so that no one can get in it,” Stone said. “If you were to spend enough money to lock down a school completely, you no longer have a school, you have a penal system.”

Stone said he also is not in favor of arming teachers, except under extraordinary circumstances where a teacher may have enough background and training already.

“If we are going to consider arming teachers, we would be better off putting more trained armed school resource officers in the schools,” Stone said.

Instead, Stone said, law enforcement officers and others who work with students should spend more time building relationships with students so they feel comfortable sharing information about potential threats.

“We need to teach students if they see something, they need to say something,” Stone said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. Students usually know what is going on before the adults do.”

Stone also said that most school violence “spills over from the community.”

Jefferies agreed. 

“Our schools mirror our communities,” Jefferies said, adding that he has experience in working in high-crime areas.

Jefferies said that the school district is working more closely with Communities In Schools and other organizations to help build relationships with students.

Several parents at the forum spoke out about concerns at Nash Central Middle School. Cindy Puckett, a parent-volunteer at the school, told the Telegram that at a recent school assembly, the principal said that 36 fights had occurred at the school in an nine-week period.

“Something has got to be done,” Puckett said. “These students are in danger.”

Jefferies told Puckett and other parents that the first course of action they should pursue when they are concerned about events at the school is to contact the school principal. If they do not achieve resolution there, they should contact one of the school district’s executive directors.

The discussion became heated when one community member, who left before hearing a response, said that principals need to show more love to students and that poverty, which he regarded as a racial issue, was the reason for some behavior.

Jefferies replied that poverty affects all races.

“How realistic is it for people to expect the school system to fix things that are beyond our control?” Jefferies asked. “We deal with issues of poverty every day and do what we can. Poverty is not permanent. The best solution to poverty is a good education, and that is what we are trying to give these students.”

Jefferies also defended his principals and teachers and urged parents to work with school leaders in seeking solutions.

“We are not trying to hurt kids or shirk our responsibilities,” Jefferies said. “We all have to work together.”

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