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Charlotte officials discuss school safety

Officials are making sure schools aren’t vulnerable to attack

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison said Monday that the school system will review its security protocols and consider improvements to make sure safety is adequate in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last week in Connecticut.

“If you were not moved into action by that, I don’t know what will move anyone,” Morrison said. “The highest priority we have is to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

CMS officials joined police chiefs from Mecklenburg County on Monday afternoon to discuss school safety issues during a news conference at the Government Center in uptown Charlotte.

Morrison said he asked every principal in the school system to review security procedures.

Each Charlotte-Mecklenburg School has a crisis plan, and the schools regularly conduct lockdown drills to protect students and staff in emergency situations. Private schools across the region also have such plans and conduct regular drills.

But the superintendent said existing procedures alone may not be enough.

Morrison said he would like to see schools install doors that would require people to buzz in before entering the school. He acknowledged that Sandy Hook had installed such a system, but it did not stop the attacker, who gained entry by shooting out a window.

Morrison also said it is paramount for the school system and the greater community to improve how mental illness is recognized and treated.

Although the superintendent said he would consider all suggestions for how to amp up security in the district, he also said he wants to maintain an environment that is conducive to learning.

For instance, he declined to commit to the placement of metal detectors in schools or an around-the-clock lockdown mode.

What principals think

Providence High School Principal Tracey Harrill said she wants to avoid such heavy security measures in her school.

“I don’t want to have a school where it’s a police state. I don’t know if that’s the best environment for students to learn in,” she said. “But certainly I can understand how people would consider those as options given the recent national events.”

West Mecklenburg High School Principal Eric Ward said that during his review, he found that the school has fairly adequate security.

For instance, the school has more than 70 security cameras, and teachers and staff are required to stand outside of their rooms before and after class.

The school also has a school resource officer and CMS security associates.

“They are constantly on the move. We have a vigilant staff,” Ward said.

During the news conference Monday, Morrison said that one of the greatest security assets any school can have is a strong network of communication.

“That’s the best when students feel so comfortable with administrators and teachers that they come forward with information,” Morrison said.

He also emphasized the importance of partnering with local law enforcement agencies.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said that following Friday’s events, he made sure every officer in his department knew the protocol for a similar crisis situation.

“This is an incident we never, never want to face in our community,” Monroe said.

Arriero: 704-777-7070; Twitter: @earriero
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