01/08/08 — Student caught with gun at school

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Student caught with gun at school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 8, 2008 2:25 PM

A Mount Olive Middle School student's arrest for carrying an unloaded gun into school has sparked more talk about how to keep local campuses secure.

The latest black mark occurred Friday at Mount Olive Middle School, when a student was found with a handgun on school grounds, officials said. The 14-year-old, who allegedly had an unloaded .25-caliber automatic handgun in his pocket, was arrested by Mount Olive police and charged with carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a handgun.

But the problem goes beyond bad student behavior.

School officials say more money is needed to address security concerns.

At a meeting of the school board's facility committee Monday afternoon, debate ensued about the need for additional security.

"We do have more than one school, that you cannot lock the doors from the inside," explained Sprunt Hill, special assistant to the superintendent for auxiliary services. "Concerns were expressed in a letter from the school. There's no way that we can lock the doors."

Hill said it has been frustrating to be constrained, again, by lack of funding.

"We have asked for money," he said. "It looks like Wayne County Public Schools didn't care, (but) we absolutely think that's important. That's the reason we asked for it.

"We do not have additional money for security."

Chris Barnes, security coordinator for the district, said the cost to secure door locks can be as little as $30 per door, or as much as $300 each.

"One school has 24 doors," he said, before illustrating the importance of locking each and every door.

"At Virginia Tech, some of the kids were shot while blocking the doors with their bodies because they couldn't be locked."

Hill said officials are working diligently to maintain safety at every school. It is a challenge, though, and "more than one school is in that situation," he said. "That's why we asked for the money."

His staff has evaluated the schools that need cameras, doors and hardware that would be needed, Hill said.

"It's not just a door lock. It's big dollars," he said. "It's not like we just denied a request. We're looking at how we can finance this as we go."

Pete Gurley, chairman of the facilities committee, said he had received a call from someone concerned about school safety, who "could not believe that we let something like money keep us from keeping these kids safe."

The question at hand is how to approach the funding request.

"Do we put it on next year's plan or do we try to speak with Lee (Smith, county manager)?" Hill asked. "If we do it, we have got to do them all."

"You can't put a price tag on the safety of our children," responded Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent. "I think we make every effort."