Sophia Spangler came to say that every day at Massey Hill Classical High School she feels safe and secure.
But every school can be a school at risk.
“While Massey Hill is a step above the rest, we still struggle with things all Cumberland County schools struggle with, the most important and prominent of these being safety, ” the 18-year-old senior and student body president was saying Tuesday at a Cumberland County Board of Education meeting at the Central Services Building on U.S. 301. “Many of our schools have buildings connected by breezeways or are simply separate buildings This makes it so outside doors to buildings cannot be locked during class changes or through most of the day so students can get to where they need to be. Many schools also have open campuses where students, faculty and anyone else can come on the school property or into the school.”
And many of the more than 80 county schools, Spangler would tell the board, don't have enough School Resource Officers to ensure the safety of students.
“How safe are we in light of recent events,” Spangler would ask Carrie Sutton, the board chairwoman, and panel members Donna Vann, Greg West, Porcha McMillan, Alicia Chisolm, Rudy Tatum, Judy Musgrave, Peggy Hall and Susan Williams. "This question has led classroom discussions, and fear. So as a student of Cumberland County, I ask the board to look further into the safety of your faculty and students, whether it be door buzzers, gates and fences around schools, giving panic buttons to teachers like a school in Indiana has or an increase of SRO officers."
Yes, Spangler was telling the board, she feels safe at her school.
“All it takes is one act of senseless violence,” she would say, “to change everything forever.”
A senseless moment in time liked Feb. 14, when a former student with an AR-15 found his way into a south Florida High School and took the lives of 14 students and three teachers. Or Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where on Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed 20 students, the principal and five others.
Just one senseless act, Sophia Spangler could not have better chosen her words for Tim Kinlaw, the interim superintendent, and the board to hear.
“I implore the board," Spangler would conclude, "to do whatever you can to make us safe.”
The school system, according to Kinlaw, Sutton and Bruce Morrison, director of safety and security for our public schools, is in the process of securing every campus from electronic entry locks, digital surveillance cameras and fencing, and Spangler's plea did not fall on deaf ears.
“I've developed a simple but effective program,” Kinlaw told the board about his proposed School Watch program. “We want to call them 'School Angels' – someone to watch over us.”
They are volunteers who will be trained to be the eyes and ears of every school.
“It's not a security position,” Kinlaw would say. “Not someone who challenges.”
But volunteers to keep vigil on a school campus, while teachers teach and students learn.
"It may be as simple as sitting in a car and observing,” Kinlaw would say. “They'll get a badge and a two-way radio.”
But not before a background check and safety training.
“Again, I want to stress,” Kinlaw would say, “that it is not a security position.”
Not a vigilante with a gun, he would stress, but an observer to report any suspicious activity during school and extra-curricular hours.
Indeed, Susan Williams, would say, and the board would, too.
“It is going to help a lot,” Spangler would say of the “School Angels” who will be guardians of our schools. “The plan is very solid. The board is working to do everything it can.”
Oh, yes, Katie Hawkes, a Grays Creek High School senior and student body president, could only concur.
“I couldn't have said it better myself,” she would say.
Because, in Sophia Spangler's articulate words, it only takes one senseless act to change a life or take an innocent life forever.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3571.