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WS/FCS talk safety protocols and changes after school security incidents

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district is looking into a clear-bag pilot program at Mount Tabor High School and random wanding checks at other schools.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Winston-Salem Forsyth County Board of Education met Thursday in an educational workshop session to discuss different solutions to school security and safety.

Jonathan Wilson, the executive director of safety, security, and emergency management for WS/FCS, said the school district already has various security measures in place including cameras in schools, notifications when any security device goes offline and a single point of entry system in elementary and control points of entry in middle schools. The district is also expanding control points of entry systems in high schools and they do monthly safety drills.

Wilson said the district is looking into a clear bag pilot program at Mount Tabor High School. A shooting at the school in September left one student dead and shook the Winston-Salem community. The pilot program will not be district-wide and officials said the details are still being worked out. However, several board members raised concerns over student privacy.

"For female students in particular or just anyone who has any type of need for privacy, when you have a clear backpack, where are they supposed to put materials that they do not want the entire school to see," asked board member Alexandre Bohannon.

"We don't want to make kind of knee jerk reactions to what happened on September 1, but it seems like we are doing that," said board member Dana Caudill Jones.

RELATED: Teen accused in Mt. Tabor High shooting charged with murder

Other proposed security changes include a pilot program of random wanding checks in some schools. The district will also send a district assessment team to specific schools to see what the administration needs. There will also be additional training in social and emotional learning, restorative practices, and gang interventions for school leadership teams. WS/FCS will also be working with a national security expert on additional recommendations. 

Bully patrol teams will be implemented at elementary schools and, starting January 2022, there will be  "Say Something Anonymous Reporting System" teams in middle and high schools. More radios will be provided for the district's response to emergencies and WS/FCS will work with the Sheriff's Department on a gang intervention group to support schools. 

"A lot of security measures, they really are about how do they make people feel in that space," said superintendent Trisha McManus.

The district is also proposing hiring more security and safety personnel.

"I'm concerned about increasing law-enforcement presence in schools," said Sarah Green, a Winston-Salem Forsyth County parent. "I think there's absolutely a role for law-enforcement to play in reducing gun violence and addressing gun violence in our schools but I think that this is a multi faceted issue needs multi faceted solutions."

There will also be changes around student mental health support. Currently, there are 139 counselors, 24 psychologists, and 45 social workers within the district. In December, the district is proposing to launch a formal mentorship program for students, and in January 2022, peer mediation programs will start as well. 

WS/FCS is also hiring additional staff including social workers, counselors, psychologists, a mental health coordinator, licensed behavioral health providers, and a district mentorship administrator. The district has already hired five social-emotional learning coaches. Social-emotional learning coaches are individuals who are focused on climate and culture within the school. They are not licensed mental health providers. There will also be more training offered for teachers and staff.

"We cannot put band-aid measures on things and not address the prevention," said McManus. "Our students come to school with trauma that they've faced. Adults comes to school with trauma that they've faced and we don't even know what that looks like."

McManus said any solution must focus on prevention, intervention and security in order to be effective. She said it must include the entire community, including partnering with law enforcement. 

"Our schools in our community did a great job with what happened at Mount Tabor," said Green. "But again that emergency response was traumatic for families, students and teachers across our community and we need to really think about the trauma informed in our emergency planning."

RELATED: WS/FCS considering more security options after guns found in schools

"I strongly believe that we can do everything perfect for those nine hours a day and without the community doing their part, we're failing the kids. They deserve better," said Caudill Jones.

No decisions were made at Thursday's meeting as it was an educational workshop session. 

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