08/27/13 — New safety policies in place

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New safety policies in place

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 27, 2013 1:46 PM

Following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year, and another recent attempted shooting, school districts across the country are taking safety measures far more seriously.

Efforts are being made to anticipate crisis situations and create insurance policies to counter them. And the Wayne County schools are no different.

Wayne introduced its hefty crisis management manual over 10 years ago, as many districts did in the aftermath of 9/11.

This summer, North Carolina legislators addressed several safety issues, with others expected to be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory soon. McCrory also formed the Center for Safer Schools with the aim of preventing such tragedies from occurring in the state.

In addition to regular updates to its crisis management plan and district policies, with students returning to class this week, the school district is keeping an eye on two legislative actions -- installing a panic alarm in every school and a potential effort to assign volunteer school safety resource officers.

Session Law 2013-360, Section 8.37 calls for every public school to have a panic alarm system installed that connects with the nearest local law enforcement agency, effective July 1, 2015.

Section 8.45 suggests that local boards of education "may enter into an agreement with the sheriff, chief of police of a local police department, or chief of police of a county police department to provide security at the schools by assigning volunteer school safety resource officers who meet the selection standards and criteria developed by the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency."

Ken Derksen, public information officer with the Wayne County district, said efforts have already begun to implement the panic alarms, installing them in the schools.

"It's kind of like a bank," he said. "You hit a button and notify law enforcement if you're in trouble."

Derksen said the upgrade to security has already started.

"I don't have the exact number of schools at this point," he said. "We have just started this process within the last year or two.

"Obviously, there's an expense for installing them. It's something that we have made a priority. When the statute came out, we were already doing it. We'll meet that (2015) goal."

As for the school resource officers, no additional hires have been made of late, due to budget cuts. But Derksen said he is interested in what might unfold with the legislation, since it shifts the responsibility to the law enforcement agencies to establish volunteer safety resource officers.

"I don't know what would qualify you to be part of that program," he said, suggesting it might be a background in the military or another related field. "I don't know if they (law enforcement) have an interest or have developed a program."