After the events that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut parents, educators and children alike are worried about how prepared their schools are if an equally horrific event occurred close to home.
Yadkin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Stewart Hobbs is working hard to reassure parents, staff and students that the school system is doing everything it can to make sure that students and staff are in a safe and secure environment when they step off the school bus and enter their classroom.
“I think the events at Sandy Hook and the number of small children that were killed affected a lot of us that are in education,” Hobbs said. “I sat at home and watched it on television that night while I’m waiting for two grandkids who are kindergarten and first grade to come over to spend the night and I don’t feel like I can prepare enough.”
Hobbs said that he is currently revisiting the school’s crisis intervention in the classroom booklet that is supposed to be in each school. Hobbs said that he is not convinced that every school has one or can locate theirs so he has plans to make adjustments, deletions and additions to the safety policies and have them reprinted and handed out to every staff member in each school.
“I want to sit down and go through the booklet and find anything that we need to tweak, anything we need to add, anything we need to take out and then get new copies of it made so that all of our employees have a copy because I am not convinced that every employee has it,” Hobbs said.
Each classroom is currently equipped with what’s called an orange card. This card is located by every classroom door and lists procedures for standby, lock down and shelter procedures for the school. Principals are instructed to review those procedures with their staff each semester.
Hobbs said that Yadkin County Schools have already been actively finding ways to make their schools safer. Over the summer the school installed security cameras in all of the elementary schools to add an extra level of security.
“One of the big pushes last year as part of our school improvement plan was to get security cameras put in our elementary schools,” Hobbs said. “We had security cameras in middle and high schools but not in our elementary schools.”
Hobbs said that an obstacle that Yadkin County Schools must face in terms of security is that each school has multiple buildings and therefore have many exterior doors.
“The principals do a really good job of trying to keep as many doors locked as they can,” Hobbs said. “With it spread out like it is at most of our buildings and especially at our high schools we cannot lock every single exterior door because they are changing classes and kids are moving about.”
Hobbs said to address this issue he has requested that every principal send him a list of how many exterior doors are at their school, how many of those doors are locked from the outside during the day and how many teachers would need a key if those locks were to be changed and locked around the clock.
Hobbs said that he has maintenance staff looking into what it would cost to re-key every door at every school in Yadkin County and provide each teacher with a key. Hobbs said they are also looking into the possibility of installing key cards in lieu of locks. This is something Hobbs hopes to have more answers to after the holidays and can present to the Board of Education at their next meeting.
In the meantime, Hobbs has been meeting with police chiefs in the Yadkin County area and with Yadkin County Sheriff Ricky Oliver to discuss how the schools can work more closely with law enforcement to try and prevent something like the Sandy Hook incident from happening in our schools.
“I talked with the police departments and Sheriff Ricky Oliver about picking up the patrols of our elementary schools,” Hobbs said. “We already have an School Resource Officer (SRO) at our high schools who is shared with the middle schools. We are also going to talk to our commissioners about the possibility of adding some more SROs to our schools.”
Hobbs estimates that it would cost nearly $900,000 to hire an SRO for all 12 schools in Yadkin County. This is something Hobbs says would be impossible without federal or state funding for the project.
Hobbs is also looking into revising school’s lock down drills by including law enforcement involvement for critiques and advice and also increasing the number of drills required each year.
Hobbs said that he would also like to see a drill for teachers during the spring or summer that would involve a dramatization of an armed shooter situation. Hobbs said that this has been done at another school system he has worked in and involved law enforcement officials.
“We would stage a crisis situation,” Hobbs said. “There would be staff members who would act as victims and others who would not have an active role but would follow along behind police and deputies. There would be officers firing blanks to make the drill as realistic as possible.
“It’s one thing to practice a lock down drill but it’s another thing when you’re seeing people lying in the halls and you’re hearing shots being fired,” Hobbs continued.
Hobbs said that although he is taking every step possible to address any shortcomings in Yadkin County School’s safety policies he will never be able to do enough.
“We can never do enough as far as preparing for something like this,” Hobbs said. “You can prepare and prepare and prepare and you just hope it never happens.”
Hobbs said that when parents ask him what they can do to help make their child’s school safer he tells them to communicate suggestions or problems with school administrators and the county office.
He also suggests that parents contact their state and local elected officials and encourage them to address issues with gun control and mental health in the United States.
“The biggest thing they can do is to talk to our elected officials especially in Raleigh and Washington because until we do something as far as tighter restrictions on gun control and until we address mental health I am afraid that we’re really not getting to the root of the situation,” Hobbs said.
Overall Hobbs believes that children in Yadkin County are as safe in their schools as they would be anywhere else.
“I have worked in eight different school systems from inner city to rural and I can say that we have safe schools,” Hobbs said. “Is it 100 percent, no, but nowhere is 100 percent. I feel like our kids are as safe at our schools as anywhere else. We’re going to continue to work to do anything we can.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.