Focus put on school security


Staff Writer

Monday, April 8, 2019

Staff members from Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and several representatives from law enforcement agencies and other emergency service organizations gathered at a forum last week to reassure parents that school safety is a top concern and measures are being taken to improve it.

With the help of funding from Nash County commissioners and other grant funding from the state, the school district already has installed security features at entrances and panic buttons for all schools that alerts all law enforcement agencies in the area if there is a problem. There are also cameras and school resource officers at all middle and high schools in the district.

Now the school district is concentrating on added cutting-edge camera systems at local elementary schools. These are being piloted at Swift Creek Elementary School and will likely be added at Fairview Elementary Schools soon, said Shannon Davis, director of maintenance for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

“We are concentrating first on schools that have the slowest response time from our sheriff’s department and then working to get these in place in other schools,” Davis said. “One of the reasons we have not expanded earlier is that we have only two men to maintain over 500 cameras, fire alarm and security systems in our district. We not only have to worry about the upfront cost of obtaining these cameras, but the cost of maintaining what could end up being about 1,000 cameras overall.”

Davis said that target is difficult when it comes to schools because it defies their original purpose.

“There are no silver bullets when it comes to the safety of schools. Schools were designed to allow people to enter and not keep them out. The challenge for us to find ways to slow down intruders or people we don’t want to get to our children and our staff until authorities arrive,” Davis said.

Members of the panel also discussed current lockdown procedures and other security measures at schools and ways the district is working to improve them. Lockdown procedures are put in place at schools whenever a possible threat is perceived to be at or near a school.

Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, said social media is one of the most dynamic challenges the school district faces in terms of security measures.

“The evolution of social media means we are often confronting and investigating threats that are not geographically oriented here so we have to lean heavily on law enforcement officers to find the source of those and validate the accuracy of threats,” he said. “But we do have some internal measures in place and that allow law enforcement agencies to view what is going on at most schools.”

The school board approved a measure in November that would provide extra security services to the Central Office of the Nashville-based school district. However, in December, Chief of Staff Brian Miller said the school district was rethinking that idea and would present a revised contract in the future. That contract has not been mentioned since. 

At that time, Miller said the decision to pull the contract was based on “discussions with Sheriff (Keith) Stone and the data gathered at a recent District Parent Advisory Council safety meeting.” At that meeting, Stone recommended the expansion of cameras and audio recording equipment throughout the district.

Since then, several parents and community members have made their voices heard at past school board meetings, expressing concern for greater security measures for younger students and asking for the presence of SROs at all elementary schools before the Central Office needs for increased security measures are considered.

Jefferies said the school district is listening to those voices and is working to expand security as quickly as is financially possible.

“Community advocates have raised awareness when it comes to the investment in security. We are now looking at pilots at certain schools. As we are in the budget cycle, we will have to look at when those measures can be made scalable to other schools in the district,” Jefferies said.