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SCHOOL SAFETY: 'They're asking parents to parent'

Charlie McDonald talks about school security during a news conference on Thursday. Charlie McDonald talks about school security during a news conference on Thursday.

Propelled into action by the Parkland High School shootings and a rise in threats to schools here, Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald, elected officials, school administrators and parents on Thursday announced broad and aggressive strategies to make schools safe.

 

“We’re taking care of 14,000 babies every day, that’s somebody’s baby that's in our care,” School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt said during a news conference. “There’s shifts that we’ve made. Doors locked inside at all times. That’s different from what we’ve done in the past. Hendersonville has always been a sleepy little town, (with the sense) that we’re not threatened here. Well, we have to start acting like we’re threatened.”

McDonald, Holt and the other officials presented a united front and a united message that the school system, students and parents will need to adapt to a changed security landscape and much more limited access to school buildings.

McDonald announced that since Parkland he has deployed deputies in uniform and in plain clothes in all 23 schools on a rotating basis.

With support of School Board, county commissioners and county administration, “we have trained armed deputies in plain clothes or in uniform patrolling in and around all public schools,” he said. “We hope to have these signs in place that will show people we’re serious about protecting our students. This reallocation in personnel is simply to see us through to the end of the year while we work with the county school security task force and Chairman Holt to put some other measures in place. It is my intention if we can find the funding to have permanently assigned, highly trained, embedded and skilled armed security personnel working in all of our public schools” by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“No amount of increased security, added personnel or signage will save the lives of our children if security features and safety protocols are not followed by everybody,” he added. “It will require a shift in thinking and the full support of everyone involved.”

Nearly every speaker at the news conference emphasized that it is crucial for parents and students to be a part of the security network.

“I really want to task the parent with talking to your children,” Holt said. “If we do not have parents and students and community members saying something about things they see on social media and reporting that to the sheriff’s department or to the school system, it doesn’t matter what we do. … If they’re in a school and in a class where the door is not locked, they should say, ‘Isn’t that door supposed to be locked?’ Every person is going to have a say in keeping our students safe.”

“Please talk to your kids about making threats on social media,” she said. “Please talk to your kids, even if you don’t think they would do it.”

“Parents are going to have to be patient,” she said. “You’re not just going to walk in and go to your child’s class. Doors are not going to be open. You have to check in at the office. You’re going to have to be vetted that you’re a parent and you’re there for a reason. So please be patient. You have to change your mindset. We’ve got to keep our children safe.”

Commissioner Grady Hawkins said: “If they can muster up enough energy to take 17 minutes out of their day yesterday, they can play a key portion of school safety. If you hear something or you see something, say something, to somebody. And they can do that at no cost. The parents are the linchpin of the whole scenario. They must impress on these young lives the nature of school safety. It’s not a joke. It’s not a game. You can’t scribble something on the bathroom wall and get away with it.”

Mike Sidorovic, the father of a Rugby Middle School student who was the target of an Instagram threat that resulted in the arrest of a 17-year-old boy, echoed the call for parents to focus on what their children are seeing on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

“They’re asking parents to parent,” he said. “I can’t say it any more plainly than that.”

Sidorovic announced that he and other concerned people plan to form the Henderson County Parents Association to ease the transition to a new, and much tighter, security environment.

“There’s going to be some discord perhaps with some parents,” he said. “We want to be able to be a voice to go to the School Board and to sheriff’s department with good and bad things and we want to provide that additional avenue for the kids to speak. The kids see so much more than you can even imagine. They know a whole lot more than we imagine.”

The sheriff’s office will look to recruit military veterans and law enforcement personnel who can pass “a pretty tough standard” of psychological testing and shooting skills. While they may be part-time, they won't be volunteers, he said.

“A lot of people weren’t comfortable about just arming teachers,” McDonald said. “I have to agree that even if we were to do that, you have to have the right kind of people with the right kind of training background. The consensus here I think from the Henderson County populace is that we need security people to do security and we need teachers to be able to teach.”

County Commission Chair Michael Edney pledged support for more funding.

“We anticipate there will be need for capital hard-cost one-time type of things,” he said. “We anticipate the need for overtime for existing deputies until new positions are filled and we anticipate needs for hiring new personnel.” While commissioners don’t know the time frame or the cost, “as a board of commissioners we’re committed to do whatever is necessary in that regard to take care of the safety and the needs of the school and our kids.”

State Rep. Chuck McGrady said school safety has already emerged as a high priority as budget drafting gets under way in Raleigh.

“My sense is we’re going to be putting assets out there and my goal is to make sure that Henderson County is at the front of the line,” he said.

The county is already absorbing the cost of overtime to put more armed deputies in schools through the end of the school year.

 “We have increased personnel and they are rotating through schools. That is being done now,” County Manager Steve Wyatt said. “Is there a cost to that? Yes, there is.”
Longer term, the School Board and county commissioners seemed to be moving to consensus on the need for fulltime security personnel in each of 23 public schools.

“That is an issue that will be a priority in the upcoming budget process,” Wyatt said. “I have never seen a group of community leaders come together with the seriousness and dedication to an issue like I am seeing here. In this county, these folks are serious about this. But what it’s going to take to really make a difference is the citizens, the parents. This is a student, parent, teacher, everybody in the community issue.”