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School security should not be a secret

lakeforestelementary.jpg

A secured entry corridor was installed at Lakeforest Elementary last year as part of an expansion at the facility.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

We are glad that the Pitt County Board of Education and school system administrators are talking about safety and security, but we don’t think they should do it in secret.

The school board on Monday discussed security measures in place at its 37 campuses in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Parkland is now the latest community in an infamous list where schools shootings have occurred. Pitt County officials rightly want to do all they can to stay off that list.

Matt Johnson, director of facility services for the school system, gave members an overview of existing security at the request of the board. He said schools have multiple ways to monitor and limit who enters, including buzzers, cameras and access control systems. Not every school has every measure, according to Johnson, but all have most in place.

Every school goes through two simulated lockdowns per year. The first is scheduled and the second is a surprise. A retired Greenville Police Department officer also consults with security staff. The goal is to utilize him in an increased capacity, especially in the summer to review equipment and procedures.

The officer also works in conjunction with 14 school resource officers and other law enforcement personnel who work closely with the schools. Each high school has a designated resource officer; some officers are assigned to multiple schools. Johnson said efforts are a part of a continually-changing plan that is updated as needs present themselves.

Johnson said he could only speak generally about the measures because the school system does not want to reveal strengths and weaknesses to potential shooters. Board member Worth Forbes requested a private session to discuss exact details.

State open meetings laws unfortunately allow secret discussions to formulate emergency response, adopt safety improvements and related matters. We say unfortunately because we think parents and taxpayers have the right to know precisely what is being done to protect their children.

We don’t buy the argument that some evildoer will scour the details of a meeting to locate weaknesses in school defense. If the system is doing its job correctly — and it has demonstrated for the most part that it is — such discussion would just as likely serve as a deterrent.

Regardless, the right of parents and taxpayers to know about current and planned measures — an idea like arming teachers for instance — should be weighted far more heavily than the unlikely event that the information could actually aid a deranged killer or determined terrorist.

In fact, school officials need the public to be informed. Plans to install secure front-entry corridors at every school have been delayed because of budget cuts, officials said. An open discussion about funding for such measures must occur if officials want public support.

School officials must maintain a strong partnership with families and community members to remain vigilant against threats. As board member Robert Moore said, keeping an eye out for concerns and acting on them is paramount. Better communication and action about known issues with the Florida shooter could have changed events there, he said.

Recent events in Greenville — quick and effective response to social media threats made against several schools Monday via social media and an immediate and massive response to a shots-fired call at the AMC theater Friday night — show that authorities here are ready to deal with worst-case scenarios.

Let’s keep the discussion about preventing those scenarios in the first place free and open to everyone.

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