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School board discusses security needs

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

TARBORO — Increased school security was one of the main concerns discussed at Monday night's meeting of the Edgecombe County Board of Education.

Board members discussed a number of topics including the need for increased school security in the wake of a number of school shootings across the country in the past year.

Superintendent Dr. Valerie Bridges said the town of Pinetops had sent a letter to the school board asking the board to consider staffing a police officer at Pinetops Elementary School. 

“The town of Pinetops Board of Commissioners are concerned about the amount of school violence that has made the national news in recent history,” the letter stated. “Our interest is to do everything possible to ensure that school violence doesn’t occur in the town of Pinetops or Edgecombe County.”

In the letter, Pinetops Steve Burress said the town would like to see the school staffed with a Pinetops police officer and would like to work with the school board in seeking grant funding to pay for the position. If enough grant funds are not available, the town would “possibly entertain budgeting a portion of the position that is not funded by external grants or the school board.”

Bridges said she is open to consideration of the idea.

“This does not fall on deaf ears,” Bridges said. “We have never had a school resources officer at an elementary school, but I understand that anything could happen in a community so we are aware of the concerns here.”

The Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office also sent a letter to Bridges expressing concerns over student safety.

“In (light) of all the recent shootings across America and our concern for all our students and school personnel across Edgecombe County, we have listed a few suggestions we feel would assist in making our schools safer,” the letter stated.

Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson suggested that the school district place a full time SRO in all middle schools and high schools. Currently, the school district uses grant money from the state Department of Public Instruction to pay for 40 hours of coverage shared across all middle schools in the district only.

Atkinson also made several other suggestions including more extensive active shooter training and gang recognition training for school staff, random checks with a metal detector, banning book bags at schools, hiring a full-time truancy officer to do home checks for missing students, providing teachers with radios for communications, offering better mental health options and providing a confidential tip line for students to report threats and dangerous activity.

Atkinson also outlined ways to possibly staff the positions such as hiring five retired deputies on a contract basis for $25 an hour to staff schools. This proposal would cost the school district roughly a $1,000 a day or $176,000 a year, Atkinson said.

Bridges said the school district could not bear that cost alone, but that staff members were actively seeking grant funding that may cover some or all of the costs.

“We understand that each of these are areas of concern and we want to be proactive,” Bridges said.

All of the school board members present expressed support for increasing security measures as money becomes available.

Also during the meeting, three re-elected school board members were sworn in for another term.

Board Chairwoman Evelyn Wilson, Vice Chairwoman Ann Kent and board member Dr. Evelyn Johnson were sworn in by Edgecombe County Clerk of Superior Court Carol Allen White. Marva Scott, who also was re-elected for another term, was not present at Monday's meeting due to a schedule conflict.

The board also re-elected Wilson as chairwoman and Kent as vice chairwoman for the new fiscal year.

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