Officials discuss safety protocols at National Conference on Active School Threats in Raleigh

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nash County security system helps flag weapons on school campuses
The Evolv security system was implemented beginning this semester and is in place at all district middle and high schools.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Just two days after a deadly stabbing at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, school security officials from across the country are gathering for the National Conference on Active School Threats in the capital city.

The School Safety Advocacy Council has previously worked with the Wake County Public School System in providing a physical school safety assessment of its campuses. The Board is now discussing possibly adding new protocols, including a clear bag policy, in light of Monday's death.

However, WCPSS Board Chair Lindsey Mahaffey would not confirm nor deny whether members were considering installing metal detectors on campuses.

"We are going to always evaluate what our security issues are. And that's what this upcoming meeting is going to be about. What are we looking at security-wise," she said in an interview Tuesday.

Districts in the Triangle have installed weapons detection systems, including Nash County Schools. Wednesday morning, it alerted authorities to a firearm inside a student's backpack. As the system is located at the entrance of the school, the student was apprehended before heading in, and classes were able to proceed as normal.

"We feel if anything, that it's a deterrent. Let's think about what we're doing and if (students) know that this is there and in place, maybe we should think differently about the decisions and choices we make before we enter in," said Heather-Louise Finch, Public Information Officer at Nash County Public Schools.

The Evolv security system was implemented at the beginning of this semester and is in place at all district middle and high schools. It's part of a four-year, $1.6 million contract backed by federal funding.

"There is one point of entry for all guests, all students," Finch said of where Evolv is set up.

The system is designed to flag possible weapons, with staffers tracking monitors as they walk through. If the system detects a possible weapon, a staffer will pull the student aside to conduct a physical search. This is what happened Wednesday morning when a staffer discovered a firearm inside the student's backpack after the system was triggered.

The juvenile, whose name has not been released, received a secure custody order for bringing a weapon on to an educational property, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a handgun by a minor. The student was remanded to the Wake County Juvenile Detention Center.

Finch explained that the screening protocols are just one part of the district's overall security planning, which also emphasizes communication.

"There's other initiatives (besides Evolv) that Nash County Public Schools does, such as building strong peer and mentorship relationships with the students and as well as implementing apps such as Say Something," said Finch.

While officials at the conference acknowledged technology can play a role in overall security protocols, they promoted a comprehensive approach.

School security officials from across the country are gathering for the National Conference on Active School Threats in Raleigh.

"We're looking at controlling having access or controlling access into the schools. We're looking at mechanisms and policies that keep all of the exterior doors locked, visitor management systems, single-point entries where basically, it's a man trap where you'll walk into the school, and you'll be screened in a little hallway before you're allowed out in the school," said Sean Burke, President of the School Safety Advocacy Council.

Burke, who formerly served as a School Resource Officer in Massachusetts, also discussed the value of strengthening relationships between staff and students, while creating an environment that encourages open communication.

"Most of these students are going to have problems before it manifests into violence. The earlier we can recognize that, the earlier we can get them help. Any kind of de-escalation training (for) staff is great. We do that a lot through the districts. But just to keep our schools safer, the schools really have to do it. We have to train our people to recognize a student in need. We need to have more mental health workers," Burke said.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, in the 2021-22 school here, there were 5,991 acts of crime and violence reported amongst high school students, a sharp increase compared to the 2018-19 school year, in which there were 4,850 reported incidents.

Last year, the Center for Safer Schools was awarded more than $74 million in grants for safety equipment, school resource officers, training, and services for students in elementary, middle, and charter schools.

Through 2027, the Department of Public Instruction is using a $17 million federal grant to help 15 school districts increase the number and diversity of mental health service providers in high-needs schools. It further supports the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, a statewide app where students can submit tips.

The conference wraps up Friday.