Local schools getting safer

MATTHEWS – It’s been a difficult task over the years to ensure guests visiting Crestdale Middle School are funneled into the school’s main office before given permission to visit other areas of the school.

But with the help of the new district-wide visitor management system Lobby Guard in the school’s office, and keeping five out of the school’s six front doors locked during the school day, secretaries in the front office can feel more at ease, Crestdale Principal Rhonda Houston said.

“Our front entrance is protected. Only one door is unlocked, and that’s the one that controls the traffic into the front office,” Houston said. “They are very glad to have that other protection, and with the new panic buttons, which they haven’t had to use, another way of communication.”

The new security measures at Crestdale are part of a district-wide effort to keep Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ students safe. Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners approved the comprehensive $19 million plan last spring – on the heels of school shootings in Chardon, Ohio, and Newtown, Conn. – giving CMS officials the go ahead to enhance security in all the district’s schools, including more controlled access to school buildings, more school cameras to better monitor school grounds and a new district-wide system to screen visitors.

The district implemented a student and staff ID badging system for all schools to start the school year, Susan Cody, a CMS building services project manager, said. That system was installed August 2013 before schools opened, although some schools are still working to get ID badges made for all students. Most district schools also now have electronic door locks, which will be accessible with staff ID badges, though some of the locks, like at Crestdale, are still waiting to be activated. Cody said about 50 percent of schools have full activation of their door locks, and the district hopes to have the rest activated by the end of the month.

All schools also have Lobby Guard, Cody said. That installation was completed before winter break in elementary, middle and high schools. Through that system, guests and visitors are all required to present their licenses to be screened through the National Sex Offender Public Registry before given permission to leave a school’s front office.

“That system immediately screens the person coming into the school, whether a volunteer, construction worker or whoever,” Cody said.

Panic buttons also are being installed in all of the schools. As of Jan. 8, 115 schools had full installation of those buttons, and district leaders expect 100 percent completion by Jan. 31.

“The good thing is that all of these systems are now consistent from one school to another. It’s the same across the board now,” Randy Hagler, CMS Police chief, said.

Hagler said the department, which gets calls from schools on a regular basis, already has heard positive feedback about the updates. Hagler said CMS staff and parents will be even more at ease once the new camera systems are installed this spring. CMS is still securing funding for security cameras, which will mostly be installed at elementary and middle school campuses. District leaders hope to have cameras installed at all 90 elementary schools and 22 middle schools by August, Cody said. That’s about 16 to 24 cameras per elementary school and 45 to 48 cameras per middle school.

‘We have cameras at most high schools already,” Cody said. “We might have to go add a few (cameras) where there are trouble spots, but those are not on the list at this time.”

Crestdale Middle already has about 16 and 17 security cameras in place, and Houston said several more would be installed at the campus to account for some areas of the school that currently are not under surveillance. She’s confident the additional cameras and activation of the school’s electronic door locks, which ensure the safety of the school’s three exterior doors, will wrap up any remaining security concerns parents and staff may have. Although all the initiatives are well received, Houston did note Crestdale has not had security issues in the past several

“My staff is very excited to know another layer of security exists with Lobby Guard and our parents are even more excited,” Houston said. “I’m excited, too, that the district is looking at additional security in all schools, and not just a few.”


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