RALEIGH — Crime and violence in North Carolina public schools fell again last year, but safety steps like locking classroom doors and challenging every campus visitor have expanded since last month’s Connecticut school massacre. At Page High School in Greensboro, one of the state’s largest with nearly 2,000 students, annex buildings and trailers have had doors locked and entry routes reconfigured since 20 children and six adults were shot to death last month at a Newtown, Conn, elementary school, Principal Patrice Faison said Thursday.
“Because of the incident, it made us re-look at safety in our school and one of the things we saw was we’ve got additional buildings. We were keeping some doors open because people go back and forth, the kids have to go back and forth,” Faison said. “It is inconvenient. But we decided as a staff, inconvenience or safety? No choice: safety.”
Page High School now requires everyone entering the building during the day to pass through the central office. There, they receive a visitor’s pass identifying them by name and have a photo taken, Faison said.
Redesigning schools to force outside adults to register with administrators is “a difficult proposition because 25 years ago schools were designed for access, to be open,” state school board Chairman William Harrison said. Many were designed with few walls to encourage teacher collaboration, he said.
In Robeson County, the Tanglewood Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association is raising a $5,000 to improve security.
Angie Bono-Severy, the PTA’s president, sent a letter to the Lumberton City Council and the Robeson County Board of Commissioners about concerns from the parents of children. During a City Council meeting on Wednesday, Councilmen Erich Hackney and Don Metzger, and Mayor Raymond Pennington gave the school $2,000 from their community revitalization funds.
Although the school keeps all entrances except the front door locked, Bono-Severy was concerned that staff cannot be completely aware of everyone entering the school. The school doesn’t have a resource officer, but Lumberton police periodically patrol the school.
“While office staff is vigilant in their efforts to monitor those coming into the school, the simple fact remains that they cannot always be aware of every person coming into the building under the current system,” Bono-Severy wrote.
Bono-Severy said that the PTA wants to add an intercom system at the front entrance for visitors, a keypad at the rear entrance for staff and security cameras around the campus. The estimated cost of the project is $5,000.
“Although we realize no one can guarantee Tanglewood Elementary will be impervious to outside threats, we feel that these are measures we can take to try and come as close as possible to achieving that goal,” Bono-Severy wrote. “We do not want our children to be afraid to go to school.”
There are currently 28 resource officers for the Robeson County school system, and all are high alert until security procedures and crisis plans have been reviewed.
The National Rifle Association has proposed stationing an armed officer at every school to protect students. State school board members said Thursday it’s time to find out how many of North Carolina’s 2,500 public schools already have a cop on campus.
The most recent survey is 4 years old. It found a majority of high and middle schools had their own officer. But only 1 percent of elementary schools had a campus officer, and one in five shared an officer with another school.
School safety data provided to the state board Thursday showed the total number of reported acts of crime and violence decreased to 11,161 during the school year that ended in May, a 4 percent fall. Because enrollment increased by 5,300 to 1.48 million in 2011-12, the crime rate per 1,000 students also decreased to below 8 percent.
More than half of the reported crimes involved possession of drugs or alcohol on campus. Nearly one third of the reported crimes involved weapons possession. There were 1,212 reported assaults on school employees last school year, the report said. Sexual assaults excluding rape rounded out the top five campus crimes, with 187 cases reported>statewide.
While student safety precautions ramped up after the 1999 Columbine shootings, more steps are likely in the future in reaction to the Connecticut slayings, North Carolina school board members said.
“The one place … that ought to be a safe haven, is a school. Particularly an elementary school,” said board member Wayne McDevitt of Marshall. “If this didn’t scar the soul of America, there’s something wrong with us.” Staff writer Cory Riner contributed to this story.