Although local private and charter schools are lacking the presence of full-time, armed school resource officers, school officials said their approach to student and staff safety revolves around constant vigilance, absolute preparedness and a strong relationship with law enforcement.
The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December have motivated all schools to re-evaluate their security measures, crisis response plans and campus monitoring procedures.
At Rocky Mount Preparatory School, 40 security cameras provide a comprehensive video surveillance system that is operational all day and night inside and outside the school.
“Safety is number one with us. A lot of our procedures were already in place, but we went back and spent time reviewing after Sandy Hook all the things that other schools do,” said Doug Haynes, the school’s CEO. “We want to have a culture of safety and security at our school because order has to be in place before learning can take place.”
Every one of the school’s windows has been equipped with blinds to keep outsiders from seeing in during a lockdown, Haynes said.
The doors in all of the elementary, middle and high school facilities are locked at all times, Haynes said, and all visitors are required to check in and wear a badge before they can go anywhere on campus.
“We also put lockdown kits in every classroom,” Haynes said. “Most of the schools are going toward the buzz-in system. We’re going to look at that, but it is a little bit of a challenge because our buildings are not all connected. We have to look at how that factors into students moving back and forth legitimately through the day.”
Since the school encompasses 100,000 square feet of space, Haynes said school officials felt it necessary to install the security system coupled with a new alarm system.
“We have an intercom system as well. Each classroom and learning lab is connected, so all a teacher has to do is push a black button on the wall, and he or she can immediately talk to the front office,” Haynes said.
As Rocky Mount Prep’s school safety officer, John Perreault said the school not only has plans and kits for preparedness, but response and recovery as well.
“Safety is a priority, but it is not just thinking about the major – it’s thinking about the minor,” Perreault said. “The police have been very visible on campus. It’s nice that the city had the initiative to send out uniformed patrols to the elementary schools in the area following Sandy Hook.”
Under Perreault’s direction, the school developed an 83-page plan addressing all safety plans, from handling tornadoes to active shooters.
“This year, we did everything from updating lines for coverage and making sure it was safe to ensuring every exterior door was locked,” Perreault said. “We’ve had Rocky Mount police and state police doing walkthroughs. Everybody is invested in our campus safety efforts.”
Rocky Mount Academy Head of School Beth Covolo said her school has an emergency plan in place that covers everything from tornadoes to dangerous intruders.
“We practice our procedures under the direction of our school crisis team on a regular schedule. It has been revised and updated each year for the last seven, and it was updated again (in late December) as we considered lessons learned from the tragedy at Sandy Hook,” Covolo said.
Rocky Mount Academy has installed a new camera system throughout the interior and exterior of all buildings, and mechanisms on every classroom door allow teachers to lock the door in an instant without entering the hallway, Covolo said.
The school performed a lockdown drill with Rocky Mount police on Feb. 26.
Three panic buttons also have been installed in strategic locations across campus, which notify police and fire personnel as well as the alarm company in an emergency, Covolo said.
Covolo said no door is left unlocked from 8:10 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., and no person is allowed to enter through any door other than the front entrance.
“The Rocky Mount Police Department has recommended, that as an additional measure of safety, we lock the one remaining door – the Avondale place (front door),” Covolo said.
Visitors now will have to state their purpose into an intercom and be buzzed in by the school secretary, as is the case with Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.
Rocky Mount police also have made themselves readily available to Faith Christian School by providing routine patrols as well as safety checks on campus both during school hours and after.
“We believe the increased presence has been a positive measure for the school. Our teachers and parents have been appreciative of this extra effort,” Faith Christian School Headmaster Dr. Edward Bunn said.
Like other schools, Faith Christian School follows a crisis handbook they refer to in the event of any and all emergency situations, Bunn said.
“This handbook is updated annually, and all faculty and staff are retrained annually. All teachers keep an emergency crisis packet with them,” Bunn said. “In addition, we have a dedicated location that would become a police command station in all buildings along with resources the police department would need to access in an emergency situation.”
All three of the school’s buildings have video cameras inside and outside, and Bunn said that array has since been upgraded to a 32-camera system which has 24-hour monitoring.
Following Sandy Hook, Bunn said school officials met with law enforcement in strategy sessions to critique policies and procedures.
Several of the school’s doors also were re-keyed, Bunn said.
The school’s doors all are built with a magnetic lock system, which only opens if the campus secretary releases the lock using a remote control and only after proper identification is made, Bunn said.
Many faculty and staff members are trained as first responders and have provided city emergency personnel with the floor plans to all of the school’s buildings, Bunn said.
“We are looking at an outdoor intercom option (to alert) students in transition, whether they are playing sports or at recess,” Bunn said.