MONROE – Student-teacher safety is an ongoing process for public schools in Union County but the Oct. 29 fatal shooting inside Butler High School in Matthews has Union County Public Schools taking another look at its procedures.
UCPS Superintendent Andrew Houlihan and other district officials recently met with the Union County Sheriff’s Office and officials from local police departments to review and possibly improve safety in schools.
Last August, Jarrod McCraw was named the assistant superintendent of student support after serving as director of safety and security for the district.
“He is our direct liaison for safety and security. That is just not physical safety but he also works with social, emotional and mental safety,” Houlihan said. “Following the shooting at Butler, we had a lot of questions from our community. I had a lot of questions for law enforcement and the experts in terms of should we be doing anything differently to prevent something like that from ever happening in Union County.”
Houlihan said there is not a “single recipe” that can solve the problem but that it has to be a multi-faceted approach.
“We had a great discussion,” Houlihan said. “We talked about everything from parent training, teacher training. The one thing we agreed on was to partner even more to get in front of our students as young as elementary school and have some honest conversations about safety. If you see something, say something. It’s educational on two ends. I think we do a pretty good job of training and educating our teachers about lockdown procedures, about crisis intervention. But we actually rarely train students on what their role is in a lockdown. That is going to be one of the next steps.”
Another step to improve student-teacher safety in UCPS that began well before the shooting at Butler was the installation of video doorbells at all 53 campuses in the county. That process is almost complete at the 30 elementary schools in the district. The devices will next be installed at all middle and high schools in the district. Some middle and high schools already have the system in place.
“Last year as part of our budget process, we put forth multiple items regarding school safety,” Houlihan said. “On the physical side of our buildings, the video doorbells system was a primary enhancement. This is basically a one to two-year phase-in.
“We started with all 30 elementary schools. This will allow the receptionist or the secretary in the office to clearly see who is trying to enter the building. They would have to give them permission for them to enter. My hope is by Jan. 1, we will be fully installed across all 30 elementary schools.”
Installing metal detection systems like the ones used in airports across the country is probably not feasible for schools but Houlihan said some sort of detection systems could act as another level of safety.
“I think it is going to be impossible to do metal detection across all 53 schools much of the way the public thinks about,” Houlihan said. “Think about what you go through at the airport and the long lines and imagine that at all of our schools. The way schools are built structurally, that is not going to be feasible. But what we can explore is mobile metal detectors or random metal wanding. That is something that I have asked our security team to explore. We have a safety committee that will be discussing that as well to see if that is something we may want to consider for the future.”
Houlihan said the district is also taking another look at each school’s plan for what would happen after a lockdown is lifted.
“The one thing we have thought harder about since last Monday is reunification,” Houlihan said. “What is our safety plan for reuniting parents with their children if an incident occurs and when that incident is over? That is one gap in our system that we have not really thought much about. But if we ever have to evacuate to a secondary site, what is the reunification plan for parents to reunite with their children? That is something we have asked every principal to go back with our safety team and research.”