School safety is never finished, as Henderson County Public Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell often points out. And this year the school system has several new changes this year to continue to address the topic.
More than 13,500 HCPS students will be in school Monday morning for the start of the 2019-20 school year. With funding from the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, the school system has implemented another series of changes to address school safety.
New safety director
Joining HCPS this school year, Scott Masington will oversee all aspects of school safety as the district’s first full-time director of school safety.
Masington’s position was created this year based on the recommendation of a study conducted by the school system. Kent Parent, who is now the director of capital projects, split the role last school year.
Masington brings more than 20 years of law enforcement experience working in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, including a stint as police chief. He retired and moved to Hendersonville.
School safety is one of the most dominating topics in the country, Masington said, and he decided to come out of retirement when the position opened up to use his skillset to make the school environment a safe place to be.
Masington will observe, evaluate and improve school safety on both the district and school levels, assisting in the development of individual schools’ crisis management and emergency response plans while also coordinating a comprehensive security/school safety program.
He will be in the schools performing assessments of existing safety procedures and drills, and will develop new protocols and policies when necessary.
Secure and verified entries
The district is nearing its goal of having secure and verified entries at every school’s main entrance. These entries require visitors to first enter into a controlled vestibule area that leads directly into the school office.
Further access into the main school building is limited and controlled by office personnel.
Newer school buildings are constructed with this entry design; to enhance security across all campuses, the entryways to multiple schools in the district have recently been – or are currently being – converted via installation of new dividing walls, windows and doors in entryways.
The two remaining renovations, at Rugby Middle and Upward Elementary, are the largest of the conversions. At Rugby, the school entrance leads into a stairway and hallway before the main office is reached. At Upward, the entrances lead into an open lobby and cafeteria.
Both will require major construction to become secure.
Masington said funds have been allocated for those projects. Plans have either gone through an architectural process or are in the process now.
Continuing this year will be the locking of interior classroom doors at all schools when class is in session.
“When class starts, all doors to the hallways are locked and remain locked through the time period that the students are in the classroom, with the exception of class changes,” Masington said. “The doors are then opened and they travel from one class to another according to their schedule.”
“This is really conforming with a national standard that we have learned that secure doors in the interior of the schools provide a much safer environment for the students,” he added.
Guardian ID protocol
A new protocol implemented at each school this year mandates that children not be released to a parent or guardian without valid photo identification. Masington said this is to ensure students are released to the proper predetermined guardian.
Extended stop arms on buses
The school system has installed extended stop arms on 11 school buses this year in a pilot program to see whether it helps reduce the number of motorists passing a stopped school bus.
Public Information Officer Molly McGowan Gorsuch said the school system is trying to take a proactive stance on school safety in all aspects. This is an extra measure to make sure drivers follow the law.
Standard stops arms are about one-and-a-half feet in length. The extended arms are six feet long and reach into the adjacent lane.
Last year the school system reported 78 stop arm violations, according to McGowan Gorsuch, though most drivers were not ticketed because their identity and tag could not be identified.
McGowan Gorsuch said the stop arms were installed on buses whose routes had the highest number of reported violations.
Unless driving on a four-lane road divided by a center turn lane or median, all drivers are required to stop when a school bus picks up or drops off a student.
The stop arms were funded by a $22,500 contribution from the Board of Commissioners in this year’s budget.
All SROs nearly hired
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office has hired a school resource officer for nearly every county school within its jurisdiction.
Maj. Frank Stout said 22 of the 23 SRO positions have been filled for both traditional and charter schools in the county.
“We have SRO deputies in field training right now to ensure departmental policies, procedures and best practice standards are met before they enter the schools,” said Stout. “Off-duty deputies step up on their days off each week to guarantee no school is uncovered.
“We just finished training this week with nine more deputies becoming SRO certified.”
The Hendersonville Police Department has five SROs who cover Hendersonville Elementary, Middle and High and Bruce Drysdale Elementary.