As the Guilford County School district prepares for the upcoming school year, officials say safety is the top priority.
At a press conference on Aug. 18, Chief Operations Officer Michelle Reed explained some of the security initiatives happening this year.
She said there will be touchless security screeners in every high school, and that there is a plan to install more security cameras throughout the district. There are also upgrades coming to the district's emergency responder radio coverage and the CrisisGo app which allows students to anonymously report incidents to school leadership.
The district has also been partnering with local law enforcement agencies including the Greensboro Police Department, High Point Police Department and Guilford County Sheriff's Office for active shooter trainings.
Mike Richey, the district's executive director of emergency management, says each of these initiatives add another layer of security in schools.
“So that's one more focus on it, one more person that's paying attention, one more step to keeping it safe,” he says. “Also I'd like to point out that, thank goodness, you know, knock on wood, however you want to put that, our district really did not have a huge proliferation of guns. We're doing this proactively.”
But the most important element for school safety, Acting Superintendent Whitney Oakley says, is building and nurturing relationships between students and staff.
“All students need to have a trusted adult in the building. Will these tactics work? We will do our best to make sure that they're in place,” says Oakley. “We can't control for every incident. What we can do is make sure that we are forming relationships with our students and training on safety protocols.”
With those relationships, Oakley says students would feel comfortable speaking up about an issue to an adult. That goes for a potential security issue, but also for mental health issues.
“It's not unlike school safety, that the relationships with the adults are critically important in addressing mental health needs,” she says.
Over the summer, staff members received training about social and emotional needs, identifying mental health issues and suicide prevention and intervention.
“We're also making sure that we inform parents. Our school counselors are there and trained. Our school psychologists, our mental health professionals are there and trained,” says Oakley. “And it's going to take all of us, right? We have to make sure that we have those relationships and that students feel comfortable sharing when they have a concern.”
The first day of school in Guilford County is Aug. 29.
Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.