Not all North Carolina schools have submitted required safety plans

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Not all NC schools have submitted required safety plans
With more weapons being found on schools campuses, it's more important than ever for school officials to plan for the worst.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- With more weapons being found on schools campuses and shootings taking place in classrooms across the nation, it's more important than ever for school officials to plan for the worst.

For years, North Carolina law has required public schools submit School Risk Management Plans (SRMPs) to the state. These plans ensure that schools have efficient and coordinated efforts in place to work alongside local first responders to mitigate, prevent and respond to any emergencies. These plans also include details and layouts of school buildings.

Last May, during a legislative hearing, it was revealed that only 16% of the 2,363 required schools had submitted their plans.

"It's not that they didn't have it, they just hadn't submitted them...for a variety of reasons," explained Karen Fairley, the executive director of the Center for Safer Schools. "There's been so many changes in administration, maybe somebody didn't pass that information down."

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A new visitor management system is helping schools track visitors that come and go throughout the day.

Still, Fairley explained allowing the state to have access to these plans makes a difference.

"In case there is an unfortunate incident, the local law enforcement will have immediate access to what the building looks like," Fairley explained. "And not only will that particular county, but the neighboring facilities will be able also to access it. As it relates to the school safety plan, it helps us in case there is an issue in that community and they need the state's support."

Fairley said after the announcement last May, many other schools submitted their plans. She was unable to provide an exact percentage of schools who have submitted their plans.

While hundreds of public schools were out of compliance, hundreds of other schools aren't required to have or submit these plans at all. That's because state law does not apply to charter schools.

This leaves the decision to make a plan and what goes into that plan up to individual charter schools.

Carolina Charter Academy director Maria Mills has experienced both the benefits and weight of that.

"You know, noting various news things that happen, I can really quickly come back to the table that day and at least look at what happened there and make any mitigating changes that I can immediately. There doesn't have the central office that I have to run things by. There doesn't have to be, you know, the nuance of the oversight type of deal," Mills said explaining the difference in working at a charter school and a public school district.

Mills has increased awareness about keeping exterior doors locked, changed pick-up and drop-off procedures, increased visitor management and plans to hire a school resource officer.

"I'm also pretty humble that I can't prevent something from happening. That's the part that's so disconcerting and really uncomfortable for someone who likes control is that I have to just assume that that is part of my equation that I can't control. So all I can do is be reactive and proactively empowering what we can control," Mills said.

Mills said she has submitted a safety plan to the state, and while she believes that is important, she thinks it is even more important to actively practice it.

"It is something we all take seriously. It is absolutely for the best interest of all of us. You know, double checking IDs, even if I'm pretty sure you're so-and-so's grandma, let me see your ID like making sure that that autonomy is not taken from the community we're trying to build," she said.

Fairley also said she has worked with a number of charter schools and many have submitted plans. She admits the percentage of submissions is lower for these types of schools.

"We have a lot of charter schools who are calling and saying, 'Hey, we want that,'' Fairley said. "So the charter schools are recognizing that this is something that is provided by the state. It is free to them, it helps them. It is an additional tool in the school safety toolbox. And so we're really appreciative of the charter schools collaboration and wanting to participate at the level that they are."

The Center for Safer Schools is working to hire safety specialists who can work with districts to create and submit these plans in the near future.

Fairley recommends schools review their comprehensive safety plans twice a year.