School system working to keep teens safe from outside school threats and each other

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School system working to keep teens safe from outside school threats and each other

Lia Blackard, Staff Writer

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As technology advances and more dangers arise in the world, the last place anyone wants to feel unsafe is in a learning environment. Thankfully, school security and student safety is taken very seriously across the country. 

However, in recent years, our schools have experienced an increase in violence, drugs, fighting, online threats, bullying, and school shootings. Across the county, school and student safety is being strengthened by school administrators through detailed policies and procedures addressing security and safety on and off campus. 

One of the ways our county is working to keep students safe is the employment of security director Jonathan Wilson who is dedicated to focusing on specific aspects of security.  

“By design, much of what we do is not published,” Wilson said. “School security plans are highly protected.”

While many details of school security are not shared, there are numerous visible examples of actions schools in the county take to ensure safety on campus. There are security cameras on every campus along with visitor management system (Ident-A-Kid) which allows schools to always know who is on campus. As well as staff members are required to wear an employee ID badge. School Resource Officers (SRO) are on all middle and high school campuses. In addition, all campuses have night patrols. 

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools also have partnerships with many city safety departments including Forsyth County Sheriff’s office, Winston-Salem Police department, WS/Forsyth County Emergency management, and all city/County Fire departments. One of the fruits of these partnerships is an emergency notification system.

“Emergency notifications are sent to nearly 500 staff, law enforcement, and first responder personnel, in the event of an emergency,” Wilson said. 

Physical threats toward students such as a fire or dangerous unidentified person on campus are not the only threat  students might face. 

Bullying can be a major problem if nothing is done to prevent it. Social media has risen in popularity in recent years. According to an article from Benjamin Herold published in Education Week, early September 2018, around 81 percent of teens use social media. It has brought a lot of good into lives, keeping people close and current with things that are happening not only around the world but close to home. Unfortunately, with the good there is also the bad. Cyberbullying is an example of this. 

Cyberbullying and bullying are taken very seriously in a high school setting. Administrators rely on students and staff to bring any form of bullying to attention.

“These reports can be made on the Bully Patrol/Tip line or directly to teachers, counselors, and administrators,” Wilson said. “When we learn of these incidents they are addressed by school administration and counselors. This could be a conversation with students and parents, but also may involve law enforcement. At a minimum, school discipline would be administered, cyberbullying would be handled the same way but would likely involve investigation by our IT team, security, and law enforcement.” 

Another concern with the increase of social media and internet use are online threats. Any threat toward a student, staff or school results in discipline and/or criminal prosecution.

“All threats and rumors of threats are investigated fully by security and law enforcement, until we are certain that no threat exists or the threat has been addressed,” Wilson said. “We ask that students/parents report all threats and concerning posts to school staff and/or law enforcement do not repost, retweet, or forward. If reposted, then that person becomes part of the investigation and slows our response. Social media posts never go away and will likely affect your future.”

Even though student safety is a top priority for RJ Reynolds high school, available resources limit our school to only having one SRO, Kenston Sullivan, for our entire campus with approximately 1,700 students. 

“One of the most difficult parts is trying to know everybody that is on campus because it is an open campus,” Officer Sullivan said. “Anybody that wants to walk off the street and enter can.”

Reynolds campus consists of three main buildings and the gym across the street. This makes the campus open to students wandering as well as greater events of violence. Students feel that having the doors locked keeps the campus safe and less open to violence. 

“Reynolds only having 2 unlocked doors into the main building as well as having a full time SRO within the building and patrolling the campus makes me feel much safer,” freshman Will Mensh said. “With the security at Wiley Middle School, it was a lot easier to control because of the single building and all the doors remain locked. I do feel the same way of being secure here as I did in middle school.”

In order to ensure student safety, drills for fires, tornados and more are practiced several times throughout the year randomly. 

“With some drills like lockdown, there are certain things students are not going to know in case a real lockdown is necessary,” Officer Sullivan said.

The goal of school security is to not only protect students, but make them feel protected too. No student should be scared to enter campus or a classroom. 

“I feel like the security measures Reynolds take are enough to keep a stable security, but not enough to actually stop someone from endangering our safety,” junior Audrey Nelson said. “Personally, I feel safe but there’s always something else that can be done to increase our safety.”

Reynolds High School security is very strong but there are some ways it could be improved. However, the improvements that could be made are almost impossible for a big high school like Reynolds. 

“I don’t know if it would be feasible but in a perfect setting, lock every door and buzz people into the school and I would love to have more SRO’s here in a perfect world,” Officer Sullivan said.

School and student safety will always be adapting and changing as technology improves and possible different threats arise. 

“We use technology to enhance and assist with the school security. This will be expanded in the future as new technologies emerge,” Wilson said. “We are continually reevaluating our policies, procedures, and protocols. We do our best to plan for every possible scenario.”