RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — When a school goes into code red lockdown, it can leave parents and students’ hearts racing — often not knowing if they’re dealing with a real threat or a hoax. So how do schools balance the need to keep children safe while making sure they aren’t scared to go to school?
Threats, guns and lockdowns in schools across central North Carolina have students and parents on high alert.
Johnny Scarborough has a second grader and is navigating the delicate balance so many parents deal with — trying to prepare his daughter without scaring her.
“We don’t mention that someday there might be a gun coming in,” he explained.”I don’t want to give her any kernel of worry.”
He does, however, want her to be ready for an emergency.
“Unfortunately, at the age of 8, I’m teaching her how to treat traumatic injuries because it’s on us,” he said. “That’s good in terms of being a self-reliant child, but I also kind of hate that I have to talk to her about the fact that if something really bad happens this is what you do.”
It’s knowledge he hopes she’ll never need. Her elementary school did go into code red lockdown earlier this year while she was at recess. Fortunately, it was a false alarm.
“While my daughter was a little nervous about it afterward, it didn’t affect her that much because she wasn’t in the building,” Scarborough noted.
But some children deal with extreme anxiety during lockdowns. CBS 17 wanted to know how school districts are taught to handle that, so CBS 17’s Maggie Newland took the question to Karen Fairley, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Center for Safer Schools.
Fairley said planning for lockdowns means preparing school employees to handle not just the physical aspects, but also the emotional aspects.
“You make sure there’s somebody on the team who can address any type of trauma a child may have during the time,” she said.
Fairley added that it’s important for parents to have a conversation about the lockdown with their children as well.
The Center for Safer Schools works with school districts to provide training and help form safety plans, which can include planning for active shooters at a training center. It can also mean helping schools identify students who may pose a danger to themselves or others.
“We’ve trained over a thousand school personnel in how to develop a threat assesment team,” said Fairley. “It’s a proactive way, but it’s not punitive; it’s to help that child… to keep them from making a mistake that may hurt themselves or others.”
Fairley says a pilot program for seventh graders called “EKG2 – Educating Kids about Guns and Gangs” focuses on preventing gun violence. It’s expected to be put in place more widely in the fall.
She also said school districts continue to emphasize: “See something; say something.”
“One of the things they have to have is an anonymous reporting system; all schools have to have one,” she said. “Also, now they need to have a panic alarm.”
She described that panic alarm as a phone app.
“Not only does it engage with law enforcement, 911 call centers, but it also has ability to ask for teacher assistance,” she explained.
But some parents want to see more.
“I really believe at every school level we need to have weapons screening,” said Scarborough.
But when it comes to security measures like metal detectors or weapons detection systems, Fairley says that’s up to individual school districts.
“Districts in North Carolina are autonomous and get to make the decision on what’s best for their district,” she said. “We at the Center For Safer Schools and DPI don’t dictate to them what they can and cannot do. We provide funding, and the funding has to meet within the statutory guidelines, but we don’t determine if they want metal detectors or not. That’s entirely up to them.”
Scarborough has written everyone he can think of, urging his daughter’s district to put every possible safety precaution in place.
“It won’t get fixed with a Band-Aid; it won’t be something we can do tomorrow,” he said. “But, we can take steps now for it to make it harder for these things to happen, and God forbid if they do happen, be prepared to respond.”