County, Polk Schools discuss school safety measures
Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022
All Polk schools to have full-time SRO coverage in new county budget
Most North Carolina schools do not have a school safety plan approved and filed with the state – a requirement of state law since 2015.
State lawmakers in the N.C. House Committee on K-12 Education heard a report last Wednesday with data showing that only 110 schools out of 2,363 had completed the process of drafting, submitting, and getting approval for their School Risk Management Plan.
Polk County Schools, as county commissioners heard Monday night at their board meeting and budget workshop, is one of the few school systems in full compliance with state requirements.
Superintendent Aaron Greene attended the commission meeting and explained that SRMPs detail how schools coordinate with law enforcement and first responders to prevent or respond to threats. Polk’s plans, which he said are “published, approved, and ready to go,” include digital diagrams of school layouts that law enforcement and first responders can access during an emergency.
“Law enforcement officers have a unique access code to that plan and can pull it up and immediately know where the main office is, where classrooms are, where a helicopter could land,” said Greene. He added that the system conducts reviews of plans and physical sites each year, and the board of education approves them. The plans are not available to the public for security reasons, he said.
Over the summer, Greene said that work will be done on a couple of campuses to secure entrances, and other physical improvements will be put in place.
Greene also detailed the cooperation between the school system and the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, citing the special relationship school resource officers have within the community of students, teachers, and families.
“The SRO program is as strong as it’s ever been. We have quality officers that understand how to relate to kids, relate to staff, but at the same time be very aware of safety and what they need to be doing on those campuses,” said Greene.
Prior to Monday’s budget workshop, Commissioner Chairman Tommy Melton had tasked County Manager Marche Pittman with determining whether funding could be pulled together in the upcoming budget to place one more full-time SRO on staff with the Sheriff’s Department, ensuring that all of Polk County Schools would have SRO coverage.
“In light of what happened in Texas,” Pittman said in reference to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, “we figured out a way to make it happen.” Pittman also is allocating an additional $25,535 for the school board and sheriff to draw from for safety and security capital needs as they may arise.
“Having an additional SRO so that every school has one, makes a tremendous difference,” said Greene. “If you’re out in parts of the county sometimes it’s not so quick to get there, so having that person on-site is huge. They are worth every single penny.”
While the SRO’s role in school safety is important, Greene stressed that the school system is also making mental health and relationships a focus of their efforts.
“If we have strong relationships with kids and their families and we’re providing as many mental health services as we can, we’re going to know,” said Greene, referring to students who may be going through a difficult time. “If you listen to the news, in these situations that have come before, almost invariably someone along the way has known. They’ve known what was going on [with a student].”
“We hammer this message to kids and to our families,” Greene said, about asking people to report concerns. “Prevention is the key.”
He said that Polk Schools utilizes an app called SSARS which allows anyone from the community to anonymously submit a tip or concern. According to SandyHookPromise.org,
the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System enables students “to anonymously report an issue 24/7/365 through an app, hotline, or website when they see a classmate who is at risk of harming themselves or others.”
Greene also says that the school system has a local phone number, 828-894-7020, for anyone to anonymously report a concern.
According to statewide figures presented to the N.C. House Committee on K-12 Education, the SSARS app has logged 431 reports of planned school attacks — 254 of them considered credible—since Aug. 1, 2021.
Commissioner Paul Beiler said that it is important for parents to stress to their children that threats “are nothing to joke about.”
“These things are not funny. They’re serious,” he said.