A safety consultant recommends that the Wake County school system consider ending the long-standing practice of allowing high school students to leave campus for lunch.
The Florida-based School Safety Advocacy Council presented a summary of the safety audit it conducted on the district and individual schools. One area that the consultants say should be looked at is the number of high schools that allow students to leave campus for part of the day for lunch.
“Although the School Safety Advocacy Council recommends that all schools maintain a closed campus policy for high schools, the Wake County School District would be better served to explore this policy in the future with key district staff, Wake County. School Board and the wider community, ”according to the summary.
Most high schools in Wake allow students, usually juniors and seniors, to have lunch off campus due to concerns that cafeterias are too crowded. Wake briefly suspended off-campus lunch over COVID-19 concerns when high school students returned for in-person instruction in February.
Ending the off-campus lunch would be unpopular with many students. It is a highly coveted privilege among students in the upper grades.
Other areas covered in the summary include the School Resource Managers program, how visitors are allowed on campus, and the need for improved school signage.
The group signed a $ 728,995 contract in July 2019 to assess the safety of every school and administrative building in the county. The school board’s safety and security committee considered the full report behind closed doors on Wednesday, under an exemption from North Carolina’s open meetings law for school safety plans.
While the full report is not public, the executive summary is and provides an overview of the work done during the security review. Curt Lavarello, the group’s executive director, did not go into too much detail on Wednesday, saying parents would not want this kind of information discussed at a public briefing.
Standardize the way visitors are allowed in schools
During the audit, according to the summary, district employees cited visitor management as a safety issue.
The report says Wake should continue to prioritize a standardized district-wide visitor management system.
“I think every parent I’ve met and spoken to across this country agrees that while they want open access to campus, they also realize that today’s times have changed.” Lavarello told members of the school board.
“And they don’t want everyone to have access to their children either.”
Due to the pandemic, Wake is following state health requirements to limit non-essential visitors to school campuses. The report could lead to changes in what is done when schools relax their visiting rules.
Improvement of the ORS program
In June, the school board voted to continue having school resource officers for the next three years, despite objections from some community groups and students. As part of the program, county law enforcement agencies provide an officer at each high school, most middle schools, and a few elementary schools.
“Most of the feedback my team got was very, very positive for the job the School Resource Officers (do) and the level of professionalism they have provided in Wake County,” Lavarello said. “But we have identified opportunities to improve this program.”
The report notes that the selection, training and supervision of school resource officers was not always consistent as several law enforcement agencies participate in the program. The report recommends the establishment of a district-wide School Resource Officer Operations Committee.
Areas of safety improvement
Other areas that can be reviewed and / or improved include:
▪ Review the district-wide emergency communication and mass notification system. The report says Wake should prioritize a district-wide communications center.
▪ Improve signage on school campuses. The report noted that many schools lack basic signage telling visitors where to go, as well as “no trespassing” signs or signs indicating that CCTV cameras are being used.
▪ Improve district-wide staff training in safety and security.
▪ Require all volunteers to pass a criminal record and sexual predator check. Checks are required now if the volunteers will be alone with the students at all times.
▪ Develop the school’s security service, in particular by creating posts for physical security specialist and emergency manager.
▪ Create a district threat assessment policy and threat assessment team.
“What may not be a threat today may be a month or a year from now, so that is constantly changing,” Lavarello said.
Act on the report
Sean Burke, the group’s chairman, said on Wednesday that the audit revealed some things that can be improved. But he said Wake County is ahead of many other places the group is working with on safe schools.
Wake can use the report to prioritize its security needs, according to Lavarello. He said some of the steps can be taken through policy changes and don’t necessarily require more money.
Superintendent Cathy Moore said administrators will review the report and suggest next steps to the school board.
“We’re going to take this information, synthesize it, process it and do all of this good stuff and continue to make sure that all schools in the Wake County public school system are as safe and secure as possible,” the board chairman said. Keith Sutton School.
This story was originally published November 18, 2021 4:57 pm.