The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Staff Writer 

School Officials Assess Security Measures — Brevard NC


In the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., local schools are taking a look at their safety procedures to ensure every precaution is being taken to prevent such a tragedy from unfolding here.

Officials say now more than ever schools need to be seen as much as a safe haven as an educational institution.

“I think that people nowadays are always very concerned, justifiably so, about the safety of their child in school,” said Jeff McDaris, Transylvania County Schools (TCS) superintendent. “Obviously one of our most important roles is to educate children, but the most important thing is to make sure that they’re safe and we take that very, very seriously.”

McDaris said over the weekend he got in touch with principals at all seven schools in the district and asked them to go over with faculty and staff all the security procedures Monday morning, as well as make available documents for any student or staff member who wanted counseling about the Newtown shooting.

He said there has also been an outpouring of contact from parents districtwide asking questions and wanting to know if more can be done to ensure student safety. While the topic of increasing security presence or even arming teachers and administrators has been discussed in the days following the shooting, McDaris said he was extremely hesitant to start down that path.

“We heard people who wanted multiple law enforcement officials walking the grounds of our schools at all times, and some people felt that teachers and principals should be allowed to carry handguns. I think that type of conversation needs to be vetted and researched a lot more carefully before being reactionary,” he said.

McDaris pointed out that every school in the district is staffed with a student resource officer (SRO), courtesy of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office. He also noted that SROs receive specific tactical training in the event of an incident on a particular campus.

When asked about the possibility of installing metal detectors at the main entrance to schools, McDaris said they had been mentioned in the past but there had never been a “lengthy discussion” about implementing them.

Still, for some parents more could, and should, be done. At Monday night’s school board meeting, two parents spoke during the public comment portion about their security concerns, specifically referencing Brevard Elementary and Brevard High schools.

One parent was concerned about the lack of security at the entrance to Brevard Elementary, and the other said he was “appalled” at how easily accessible Brevard High School was, noting he could “easily walk the halls without being challenged.”

According to McDaris, Brevard Elementary is one of two elementary schools in the district, the other being Rosman Elementary, that does not require a person to be buzzed into the building before gaining access. He said there have been discussions that would be further explored about ways to increase security measures around the entranceway.

In speaking about BHS, he said the campus was naturally more open and free-flowing as there were older students, as well as more faculty, but said all exterior doors to the building are supposed to remain locked at all times and were under constant surveillance from video cameras.

In discussing the lockdown procedures at each school, McDaris said he could not comment on some specific details, as he did not want to jeopardize the secrecy of how exactly teachers were notified in the event of an emergency.

He did say that teachers were instructed to get all students to a safe location, ideally in a classroom, lock the doors and await further notification.

Brevard Academy

Brevard Academy Director Tony Helton said the events of last Friday gave his school an opportunity to take a look at its security procedures.

He said the school performed a security drill on Monday and he was quite pleased with how faculty and students handled the situation.

Helton said he also received phone calls and emails from parents.

He said security wasn’t so much the topic of discussion as mental peace of mind for the students.

“I think first and foremost parents were concerned about students’ mental health and making sure that they knew they were safe and that they were in a good place,” he said.

Helton said one thing he does plan to focus on in the future is having an SRO stationed at the school. Until now, Brevard Academy has never had an SRO since they opened in 1998.

“The reality of Brevard Academy not having an SRO has no ill-gotten beginnings,” Helton said. “I think we are still a relatively new school, and you have to make sure that new things have traction and this is just natural evolution. Certainly, Brevard Academy does not blame anybody for not having an SRO currently here, but we are looking forward to the day when one is here.”

Brevard Academy, located on the campus of Brevard Music Center, is unique from any other school in the county in that it is both decentralized and exposes students to the elements more so than a brick-and-mortar building. It is also more readily accessible, which is one reason Helton said having an SRO is an easy way to improve security.

“I certainly want members of the community to come visit our campus, but we have to be very vigilant to make sure that nobody is up to any foul play,” he said.

The lockdown procedures at Brevard Academy are similar to those used in public schools. Helton said every faculty member has a walkie-talkie they keep on them at all times. In the event of an emergency, Helton said he issues a code red call over the radio at which time teachers are instructed to get all the students into a classroom, close the window blinds, and shut and lock the door.

As Brevard Academy is in a camp setting, Helton said there were several buildings around campus that teachers and students could access to find safety in the event they were away from their immediate classroom.

Both Helton and McDaris agreed that the Newtown tragedy has opened the eyes of the nation to re-examine school security, which is something they said was the responsibility of any school administrator.

“America is a changing place,” Helton said. “Unfortunately, these things happen more and more often and anybody in a leadership position, in charge of a group of people but certainly in charge of a group of young people, had better be diligent about what they are doing and treat it seriously.”

McDaris said while it is impossible to make any school 100 percent safe, it was imperative to be proactive and take whatever steps necessary to ensure parents, students and faculty feel at ease in the school setting.

“It’s against my nature to say that we do the best we can, but bad things are going to happen,” he said. “I want to say that we do what we can to keep the bad things from happening.”


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