School safety forum addresses lockdown, bullying and tolerance

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, February 4, 2020

On Jan. 28, Dare County Schools hosted a school safety forum in First Flight High School’s auditorium. Led by DCS Superintendent John Farrelly, a presentation and a question and answer session with twelve panelists addressed safety concerns from stakeholders and staff.

Farrelly started off the night with a brief speech, specifying practices DCS has put in place to maintain a safe and welcoming environment in each school. He noted how a healthy school environment includes a positive physical and emotional state for students, staff and families before, during and after school.

The presentation that followed addressed a five-year plan, “Dare 2023,” which consists of four district priorities: healthy schools, active learning, talent development and community partnerships. This forum focused on healthy schools; the other three objectives will be touched on at future forums.

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Farrelly walked through DCS’s strategy when it comes to creating healthy schools, which includes improving safety plans, surveying, evaluating health and wellness resources and monitoring school attendance rates.

In early January, DCS sent out a school safety survey to “engage stakeholders, analyze feedback and prioritize action steps,” Farrelly reported. 210 individuals responded to the survey, half being staff members. 70% of these staff member respondents work at First Flight schools.

Farrelly reviewed the main topics of concern that were brought up in responses to the survey. The first of three questions in the survey referenced what DCS is doing well. “A lot of parents and stakeholders feel that we do very well with communication,” Farrelly started.

Conversely, Farrelly said that DCS had received some questions as to why parents had received word about the lockdown that took place in December at First Flight schools from their children before the school staff. Farrelly made note that it is beyond his control that students have cell phones in their hands “within three seconds of going into lockdown” and can communicate faster than staff.

He said that their first step in an event like a lockdown is to have direct communication with law enforcement, then get in contact with the school to receive the details. During the December lockdown, once the information was received from the school and law enforcement, parents were emailed about 35 minutes after the lockdown began, Farrelly said. “The worst thing I can do is communicate inaccurate information,” he added.

In terms of other improvements on DCS’s end, the survey showed that stakeholders wanted drills practiced at various times of the day, strengthened entry procedures, mental health training and a stronger zero tolerance policy.

To address the entry procedure concern, Farrelly said an action step to follow the night’s meeting was to perform an audit of morning and afternoon dismissal at schools. “It’s helpful for us to put our eyes on it,” he said.

In terms of the zero-tolerance policy, Farrelly said “I think we have been very assertive with situations that have come up since I’ve been superintendent – two long-term suspended kids who have communicated threats. I don’t think that, I know that.”

As for mental health training, Farrelly referenced the 2018 student survey which had 1756 participants. He said that 2% of students mentioned something about more kindness/less bullying in terms of what the school can improve on. Farrelly also showed the anti-bullying programs available at DCS, including Kid Talks, Friends of Rachael and Sanford Harmony.

Bullying was also brought up in the questions posed to the panelists at the forum, which consisted of Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie, DCSO Major Jeff Deringer, FFHS senior Emmy Trivette, MHS senior Caleb Barker, teachers Keith Durham (CHSS), Kassie Mount (MHS) and Crissie Weeks (FFHS), along with principals John Luciano (MHS), Chuck Lansing (FFHS) and Diane Childress (FFMS). Board of Education Chair Bea Basnight was also on the panel with Farrelly.

The question that was posed to the panel dealt with whether or not the panelists thought bullying was a pervasive issue at DCS. Trivette commented, “we really need to emphasize mental health education in the school system.” Durham added that teachers and staff are at a “competitive disadvantage” with technology/social media. All student and teacher panelists were in agreement that bullying does not seem to be a “pervasive” issue in DCS, but it is still an issue nonetheless.

Panelists were also asked their feelings on metal detectors; unanimously, the panel felt metal detectors would hinder the welcoming atmosphere DCS now offers.

Working dogs were also brought up; Doughtie asked the crowd how they would feel about their children being subjected to the drug dogs. Many parents raised their hands in favor having the dogs brought in. Doughtie said officers do come on campus and check parking lots with their dogs for narcotics.

Farrelly was asked about the perpetrator involved with the bomb threat to FFHS in December. Farrelly reported that the investigation is ongoing and the perpetrator has not been caught yet. The IP address where the threat originated cannot be determined. If the perpetrator is found and identified as a student of DCS, Farrelly said, “the student would definitely be long-term suspended.”

Due to limited time, not all questions from the survey were able to be answered at the forum. An email was to be sent out to parents on Friday, Jan. 31 with all questions and answers included in an FAQ from DCS.



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