Viewpoint: I-SS working to keep students safe
Editor’s Note: Iredell-Statesville Board of Education Chairman Martin Page delivered the following remarks at the school board’s meeting on March 15.
BY MARTIN PAGE
The past month has been tough for everyone. The senseless deaths of 17 high school students and staff on February 14 has everyone on edge. This event raised a lot of hard questions for school staffs, students, parents, police and, especially, elected officials.
At our board meeting just a month ago, days before the tragedy in Florida, I spoke about education as the best deterrent of crime, especially as it related to the Statesville community. Now, our attention is turning to criminal behavior’s effect on the educational setting after this gunman’s horrific actions.
In the past month, I have been asked repeatedly what Iredell-Statesville Schools is doing to protect our students. Ironically, on the morning of February 14, just hours before the Florida tragedy, Iredell-Statesville Schools’ board members were meeting with county commissioners and local law enforcement leaders to discuss school safety. Several important steps were discussed to increase school security.
Since then, the entire board has met with law enforcement leaders. In addition, our joint task force, composed of school board members and county commissioners, also met with local law enforcement representatives and N.C. Department of Public Instruction security specialists in an effort to develop an improved comprehensive security plan to protect our students.
I do feel Iredell-Statesville Schools has been proactive in providing a high level of school security. When talking with other school board members around the state, I realize just how far ahead of most districts we are. Though I-SS does a very good job of providing school security, can we do more? Absolutely! We must and we will!
I have been very impressed with the cooperative effort of the Statesville, Troutman and Mooresville police departments and the Iredell County Sheriff’s Department to provide our schools with the best possible security. Our county commissioners also must be thanked for stepping up to providing gate monitors at all of our high schools.
Despite the emotions of this past month, I think we need to step back and look critically at facts and statistics. We must realize that schools are much more likely to experience a student suicide or a drug overdose than a shooter. Please understand that I’m not saying this to diminish the danger of an active shooter or to shirk our duty to protect our students from this type of event.
According to the Huffington Post, since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings, 138 children have been killed in a school shooting. In 2015, however, 2,161 15- to 19-year-olds committed suicide. That’s right: 2,161 in one year. In the past 18 months, four high school students committed suicide in Iredell County. For every suicide, researchers believe as many as 25 attempts occur. Also, during 2015, 772 15- to 19-year-olds died from drug overdoses. That means nearly 3,000 students died in just that one year from suicide or drug overdoses.
Iredell-Statesville Schools has seen more than our share of these tragedies. Drugs and suicide undoubtedly pose a greater threat to our students that an active shooter. Again, I do not say this to diminish the danger of an active shooter, but only to make sure we, the protector of over 20,000 students, clearly see the entire threat picture so we can do the best job possible to protect all of our students from as many dangers as possible.
The one thing we can do to be more proactive in preventing all these types of tragedies is to provide more mental health counselors at all of our schools, especially at the middle and high school levels. This additional assistance will be more effective to avert all of these dangers than any other single solution.
Our best chance in truly protecting our students is solving the mental health issues they may be dealing with before any tragic conclusion occurs. If the mental health system had worked effectively in Florida, there might be 17 more adults and teens alive today.
Today, schools are mandated to supply mental health, nursing, physical therapy, speech, counseling, and other medical and social services to our students. In addition, now more than ever, school systems must also provide increased security and police protection for our campuses.
These modern-day requirements are a necessity, but they have forced school systems to use more and more of their financial resources to provide these non-instructional services. We spent over $400,000 for school resources officers last year and budgeted over $500,000 for them for this school year.
After 9-11, our country amped up security measures at airports and hired more air marshals to make flying safe. Our county made the courthouse safe with security officers, metal detectors, and other precautions. When are we, as a country, state, county and city, going to come together to commit the resources to make our schools just as safe?
Now to answer the question about what I-SS is doing to make schools safer.
Please understand that the administration and board members have to be very careful when discussing the specifics of school safety plans to avoid exposing information that may compromise security procedures. However, I-SS is addressing six major areas.
Without going into specifics, these areas include:
1. Hardening the target. We will continue to do all we can to control access to our schools and to make internal movement more difficult in crisis situations.
2. We will be trying to provide mental health professionals at all of our schools all of the time. Personally, this goal is my priority for the 2018-19 school year.
3. We will be working to increasing law enforcement presence at our facilities.
4. The system will be increasing security sweeps and screening at our schools.
5. We will be providing additional training for staff and students in recognizing and reporting potential threats to a school or to a student’s individual safety and well-being.
6. Hopefully we will be increasing situational training and threat simulations to prepare for an armed intruder event.
In conclusion, please know that Iredell-Statesville Schools and this Board of Education is committed to its continued work with our local, state, and federal government agencies to provide the safest possible schools for all of our children.