When the Wake County school board released its meeting agenda Friday, one could almost feel a giant, exasperated eye roll at the inclusion of item 17 ó a potential contract with Allied Barton to post an unarmed security guard at all of the countyís elementary schools.
Currently, all middle and high schools have armed law enforcement officers working as resource officers at those schools.
But elementary schools have nothing.
Well, thatís not entirely true as Senior Director for Security Russ Smith pointed out. A review of all schools in the past month has shown that all are in compliance with policy to have active safety and security plans in place.
But the point he made is that there is really no effective way at this time to make sure that elementary schools are truly secure.
And that is not acceptable, whether one is in favor of armed guards or not.
Wake Countyís elementary schools are a varied lot, as the board heard. Age makes a difference as many of the older schools were built during an era when having a clear line-of-sight to the front door didnít seem necessary.
Additionally, some schools have multiple buildings and keeping everything locked up during the day can be a challenge.
Itís not that administrators donít want to lock up the buildings, Smith said. Itís more that other things can quickly take up a staff memberís time and next thing you know ó well, the building isnít secured as it should be.
With budget shortfalls looking to be a regular plague on the system, the idea of being able to dedicate an employee to monitoring front door access and ensuring all other access points stay locked, doesnít seem likely.
During the public comment time, speakers against putting security guards of any variety seemed concerned about using an outside and potentially unaccountable company. But Smith and Interim Superintendent Dr. Stephen Gainey made it clear that the principals would be in charge at the schools. And that includes overseeing the security guards. Any that donít measure up can be swiftly cut out.
Additionally, they pointed out that the contracted services with Allied Barton made the $835,000 price tag a comparable bargain to having to hire a full-time staff member with benefits.
When we first heard about the notion of unarmed guards at elementary schools, we participated in a lot of the eye rolling. Having an unarmed guard seemed like sending a firefighter to a fire without any water.
But Smith presented a compelling argument for having one person being stationed at the front door at all times. There are lots of reasons to limit access to schools, reasons beyond trying to prevent another Sandy Hook tragedy.
Schools have to deal with custody issues all the time, for example. According to Smith, the letters heís received in the last few week are full of stories of how easy it is for someone to slip in the front door of an elementary school and ďforgetĒ to check in at the main office. And once youíre in, you can exit by any door to the outside. Thatís not a good thought.
Smith also pointed out that most schools have security cameras in place. But donít always have someone available to monitor the footage. The security guards could also have that duty.
In fact, the request to ensure that elementary schools are completely locked up during school hours was the top request from parents, he said.
While we agree that taking a few weeks for staff and board members to take a closer look at the security needs of schools is a good thing, dragging their feet is not.
Nor do we think having a Pollyanna attitude and not wanting to subject little Dick and Jane to the view of a guard each day is at all sensible. Children will not feel emotionally squashed by having the presence of security. We certainly donít worry about them feeling deprived when we lock them into child safety car seats.
Putting in place someone whose sole task it is to make sure that security protocols are followed seems like a slam dunk idea. Then teachers, principals and other staff can focus on what they need to do ó educating our children.
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