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School safety, armed teachers prompt discussion


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Students, parents and other community members are voicing their concerns about school safety as the Pitt County Schools Board of Education continues to grapple with how to better protect its campuses. 

At Monday’s school board meeting, parents and students used the public expression time to urge members to take action soon. Meanwhile, Pitt County NAACP members issued a recommendation on Tuesday, advocating strongly against the idea of arming teachers with weapons. 

The comments come in the wake of the school shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.

The issue, however, is not just a national one, according to parent Scarlett Stovall, who has a son at D.H. Conley High School. Rather, it is a reminder of a tragedy that can happen locally and at any time, and she said local legislators need to find solutions. 

“We’re not going to solve the problems in Washington, D.C.,” Stovall said.

She was just one of several parents that have reached out to administrators on the topic of school safety. Matt Johnson, director of facilities for Pitt County Schools, said he has fielded phone calls, social media interactions, emails and face-to-face conversations with concerned residents. 

From his conversations, Johnson said parents want secure corridors, buzzing-in systems to enter schools and more student resource officers. Parents also have asked for more equality when it comes to providing safety features at schools. 

Stovall expressed that concern, noting that Conley lacks a buzzing-in system. 

“Some schools have some things and some do not and,” she said. “My child’s life is just as important as anybody else’s so I want every school to have these things in place.”

Lisa Reardon and her daughter, Tierney, also addressed the board. Lisa thanked the board for their efforts when it comes to school safety but said time is running out to provide the necessary protections for students. She said the board must find sources of funding to provide secure corridors for all schools — something is easier said than done. 

Board member Caroline Doherty said the board needs the help of the legislators to afford some of the safety features discussed. 

“It is the most important thing right now, and we need the parents and the students to work with us and with our community,” Doherty said. 

Tierney, who attends J.H. Rose High School, read aloud an article she wrote in her journalism class. In it, she advocated for improvements in gun safety education, identifying the mentally ill and investigating suspicious people. She also said restrictions should be tighter on young people acquiring guns. 

“Students must be part of the conversation,” Tierney said. “Our lives are worth more than guns.”

Meanwhile, several NAACP members, including chapter president Calvin Henderson, named reasons why they think arming teachers would be a bad idea.

Henderson called the idea a “tragedy” while another member, Shantel Hawkins, said it would “destroy an educational institution.” 

“I don’t feel that anyone of good conscience and a sound mind would want to put our teachers in the position of having to have guns for protection in our classrooms,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the NAACP will present its consensus at the next school board meeting. Most members recommended increasing the student resource officer presence at schools and creating dialogue so as not to nurture an environment where violence is acceptable.

School board members said that they are gathering community input from all source, and the issue is something they do not expect to disappear anytime soon. 

“It’s not just an issue that needs to be dealt with because it’s fresh right now,” school board member Benjie Forrest said. “It’s an issue that needs to be ongoing, weeks, months, years from now because our number one commodity and precious item that we produce in our community are our children. Without them we have no future.”

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.