Shanahan talks school safety in Durham

April 23, 2013 8:03:03 PM PDT
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety secretary is working on Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to increase safety in schools.

Keiran Shanahan has been traveling the state for weeks, and for the first time he visited the Triangle Tuesday.  

Shanahan is working on a final plan to present to the governor by the end of next month. To do that, he's talking to schools around the state about safety, and urging people to tell him and his staff what needs to change to prevent violence.  

"Let's choose the best practices," said Shanahan. "Let's have early intervention so we can avoid any issues of violence."

Avoiding violence before it starts was the theme of the forum headed by Shanahan. Durham was his fifth stop. He's traveling the state, talking to schools about how to prevent violence like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.

He chose the Durham School of the Arts as a spot to help spread that message.

"We do have a reputation among Durham Public Schools and the community that we have a very safe school," said Durham School of the Arts Principal David Hawks.

Shanahan said Durham County has more school resource officers per student than anywhere else in the state, but it's not just about beefing up security. It's also about identifying issues before they start.

"Many of the instances where we have shootings in schools by students arise from mental health problems," said Shanahan.

While many in attendance agreed helping students mentally is key, they also urged educators to take caution before handing down punishments -- especially when some can land students out of school on suspension, or in the courtroom.

"Schools are becoming a gateway to the adult prison system," said one parent.

At the end of the night, participants urged Durham Public Schools to factor in security, mental health, and disciplinary issues into its final plan to increase safety among students.  

There was also a family in the audience that could not speak English. Their interpreter told the panel to also consider ways to share school safety issues to all members of the community, especially when there may be a language barrier.

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