School security task force organizesPublished 4:31pm Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Tour of schools scheduled for Feb. 13, 14 and 15
A newly formed school security task force sat down for the first time to organize a plan for better school security in Polk County.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners created the task force on Jan. 7 following the Newtown, Ct. shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
The task force’s first meeting was held Wednesday, Jan. 23 and consisted of Polk County School Superintendent Bill Miller, Polk County School Board Chair Geoff Tennant, Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill, interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman, Columbus Police Chief Chris Beddingfield, Saluda Police Chief James Cantrell, Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood, N.C. State Trooper Darryl Bailey and facilitator Jim Edwards, Isothermal Planning and Development Commission Director.
Members of the task force discussed a variety of topics including what organizations the group will need input from and what risks are factors in Polk County.
The task force agreed that a risk assessment of all school facilities is needed first and scheduled to conduct those assessments at 10 school facilities on Feb. 13, Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.
The facilities that will be assessed include Polk County High School, Polk County Middle School, Polk Central Elementary School, Saluda Elementary School, Sunny View Elementary School, Tryon Elementary School, Forbes Preschool, the Virtual College, the alternative school and Stearns.
Edwards said the task force will need to look at current policies at each school and what the school board can do to strengthen or tighten up the policies. Tennant and Miller said all school staff has identification cards with the high school being strict about wearing them and the elementary schools not as strict.
“Locking down schools can become a very complicated issue when you are trying to have an open school,” Miller said.
Beddingfield said it’s going to be a magic line that needs to be drawn because there’s one extreme where you have schools locked down with a gate like a prison and another extreme to be wide open. He said most law enforcement officers will tend to think that line should be tighter on security.
Miller said he’s for nothing and he’s against nothing. He said he’s been working for schools for 25 to 30 years and watched America spend money even if they don’t know what to do.
“That’s a complicated problem,” Miller said. “There’s probably not a solution. Just doing something to say we did it is not a good answer.”
He added that the others wouldn’t believe how many calls and emails he’s received from companies trying to take advantage of the situation to make money.
Tennant said the board could come up with all kinds of recommendations but it’s Pittman who will have to go out and find the money.
“I don’t think there’s a person on this board whose goal isn’t to make kids safe at school,” Tennant said.
He agreed with Miller saying as a society people normally take piles of money and throw it at problems.
“That might give people a false sense that we’ve done something important and it might blow up in our face,” Tennant said.
The task force agreed that each school’s risks are going to be different.
Miller mentioned how difficult some of Polk County’s schools are to secure due to the layouts, particularly Tryon and Polk Central because of multiple buildings and multiple entrances.
Miller said people talk about how an officer can simply man the door, but what people don’t understand is that most schools have four doors. There’s not one place to stand, he said.
The task force agreed that input is needed from teachers and individual school administrators regarding what each school thinks their top security risks are.
Miller said another thing the task force may need to consider is that the most dangerous time in Polk County School activities is not during the school day but during athletic events.
“There’s 5,000 people at a football game on a Friday night and nobody’s searched,” Miller said. “That’s the most dangerous thing happening in Polk County.”
Miller also said people think that school runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and asked if the group was going to discuss after school and summer school.
“People think school runs from 8 to 3, but it’s really from 8 to 6,” Miller said.
The consensus was that the task force will concentrate on securing facilities and agreed on the 10 facilities to create a risk assessment.
The group decided to create the risk assessment within 60 days, or by the end of March. The timing works out with the school system currently working on a strategic plan, so the task force agreed to work hand in hand with the plan, particularly with the public input portion of the school’s plan.
Miller said originally the strategic plan was not going to include security measures but after the December shooting in Connecticut, school officials decided to make security part of that plan.
The school’s strategic plan will also involve surveys.
Following the risk assessment of the school facilities, the task force said it would like to talk to different groups for input, including mental health officials, the Polk County Department of Social Services, school principals and local state representatives.
In the meantime, task force members are going to research statistical information regarding security issues at schools, speak with other law enforcement and school districts regarding what they may be doing that is working and keeping up to date with what state and federal officials are implementing.
The next task force meeting was scheduled for Feb. 21.