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Safety First: How area schools respond to threats from inside or out
Catawba County

Safety First: How area schools respond to threats from inside or out

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No Threats

Math teacher Debbie Kellogg (right) at Discovery High School in Newton helps student Grace Villar with her math problems. The Newton-Conover School district had zero threats during the 2017-2018 school year.

Two of the three school districts in Catawba County experienced a variety of threats ranging from a student claiming to have weapons to bomb threats in the 2017-2018 school year.

A spokesperson for one district says it did not experience any significant threats during that academic year.

The Hickory Daily Record asked all three school districts in Catawba County to share any records and correspondence related to threats in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Newton-Conover City Schools

Aron Gabriel, superintendent of Newton-Conover City Schools, said the district didn’t experience any threats in the 2017-2018 school year.

Gabriel said he wasn’t sure what led to Newton-Conover City Schools to a year with no reported threats.

“I hope it has something to do with the fact that our staff understands the value of the staff/student relationship,” Gabriel said. “By focusing on the student as an individual with a life outside of school, it better equips the educator to be able to sympathize and empathize with their students.”

Debbie Kellogg, a math teacher at Discovery High School, agreed with Gabriel, saying she once taught at a school in Iredell County where the schools were on lockdown all the time, but doesn’t experience the same issues at Discovery High.

Students who threaten other students or faculty members with physical harm can be suspended up to 10 days, Gabriel said.

“The three school systems in Catawba County have worked on the development of a common threat assessment tool to better streamline our approaches to threats/threatening behavior,” Gabriel said.

Hickory Public Schools

Hickory Public Schools provided details on specific events involving threats from 2017 through 2018, but omitted names and other personal information.

Many of the reports followed a pattern of a student either becoming upset or thinking it was funny to make a threat.

Then, the administration would talk with the student and find out the student didn’t realize the seriousness of the statements they made.

The report ends with administration finding the school and students are not in danger from the threat.

For example, a student at Grandview Middle School was told he would spend the remainder of the day in in-school-suspension when he began communicating threats toward the principal and other students, claiming he wanted to physically harm them, according to the report.

He then threatened to blow up the school and kill “all the black people” in the school. He began kicking the desk repeatedly and being very disrespectful when asked to stop kicking the desk, the report said.

In the report, it said during the investigation the student talked about getting very upset easily and said other students say and do mean things to him. The report said the student regretted saying racist things and had no intention of hurting anyone or the school.

The interviewer wrote, “He seemed genuinely sorry for the things he said.”

Some students in these reports were repeat offenders.

Catawba County Schools

Catawba County Schools shared the type of threats they received in 2017 through 2018 along with the number of times they received the threats. They did not say if these threats came from students, faculty or from outside of the schools.

Catawba County Schools had two bomb threats in the 2017-2018 school year, one threat of physical attack with a weapon and one threat of physical attack without a weapon, said Crystal Davis, school board attorney for Catawba County Schools.

Davis said Catawba County Schools can’t release details on these threats for confidentiality and security reasons, but she did confirm a large number of the threats they receive are from students.

Catawba County Schools immediately contacts law enforcement whenever a threat is received, Davis said.

Discipline actions for students range from suspension, alternative placement, homebound services or expulsion.

Threats from faculty members can be cause for terminations, and parents issuing threats can be banned from any and all campuses in the Catawba County Schools district.

Lockdown, code-down: What do they mean?

No threats

Discovery High School social studies teacher Jason Barham in Newton, conducts a social studies lession in a relaxed atmosphere.

School districts in Catawba County and Alexander County use similar lockdown procedures but different terminology.

To help understand the similarities and differences in a lockdown versus a code-down, we asked each district to explain the terminology and what it means.

Hickory Public Schools

Hickory Public Schools will enter one of two types of lockdowns in the event of an emergency.

A soft lockdown is used when an incident occurs off campus, but in the area of the school, according to Beverly Snowden, director of communications for Hickory Public Schools. During the time of a soft lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or exit the school, but instruction continues.

A full lockdown is used when there is a possible threat to the school that is active and on campus, Snowden said.

According to Snowden, staff members are trained annually on procedures to take during a full lockdown.

“Hickory Public Schools works closely with local law enforcement and follows guidance from the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools when determining procedures and policies around student safety in regards to lockdowns,” Snowden said.

Newton-Conover City Schools

Newton-Conover City Schools also operates two types of lockdowns.

An exterior lockdown is used when an event in the community poses a threat to the school, according to Sylvia White, executive director of auxiliary services for Newton-Conover City Schools. Examples of an event could be a police chase, bank robbery or shots fired near the school.

Once it is determined the school needs to call an exterior lockdown, a notice will be announced over the public address system.

White said Newton-Conover does not use code words to announce lockdowns and opted to make specific announcements.

“We feel that if you state the action there is no confusion with individuals who may not be assigned to that building daily,” White said. “There is also no confusion as to what the code may mean.”

According to White, once the exterior lockdown is announced, all exterior doors must be locked, all outside activities should cease and students and staff should move into the building. Movement from building to building is prohibited but students can move within the building, if necessary.

An interior lockdown is used when an intruder or a student on the school campus possesses a weapon with the intent to harm other students or staff members.

Like the exterior lockdown, a message over the public address system announces the school is in an interior lockdown.

“However, if an announcement cannot be made via the public address system, an administrator or other teacher may alert staff members on a specific hall or area to follow lockdown procedures,” White said.

Alexander County Schools

According to the Alexander County Schools’ website, there are three different codes called for an emergency situation: code-in, code-out and code-down.

Alexander County Schools call a lockdown a code-down avoiding the use of the word “lock.” Renee Meade, public information officer for Alexander County Schools, said this is to simplify the codes.

A code-in is used when administration deems a situation requires students be kept contained in the classroom but no immediate danger to students or staff is perceived, the website says. This procedure may vary based on individual school sites and situations. 

During a code-in, students are kept inside and outside access is strictly monitored. Instruction continues.

In the past, Alexander County Schools issued this code when there was law enforcement activity in the area such as responding to a bank robbery or chasing a fugitive in the area. 

A code-out is used when administration deems a situation requires immediate evacuation of the school, the website says. 

The code-out could be issued for several reasons such as a fire drill or to evacuate the building.

A code-down is used when administration deems a situation requires students be kept contained in the classroom and possible danger to students or staff is perceived. 

This code would be used if there was an intruder or there were conditions that threaten the safety of staff and students.

“Safety is our number one priority,” the website says. “We want our children and staff to be safe and to feel safe.  As parents and a community, we want you to feel the same about our schools.”

Catawba County Schools

Catawba County Schools chose to not share their safety lockdown procedures.

Crystal Davis, school board attorney for Catawba County Schools, said that by sharing the information that it would give terrorists information the school system would not want to share.

“Catawba County Schools treats all threats to students and staff as serious matters and has developed thorough safety protocols and plans in conjunction with law enforcement to address threats to school campuses, students and staff,” Davis said.

“Catawba County Schools cannot share these plans, safety exercises, codes, procedures or terminology with the public because it could further threaten the safety of students and staff in the event they were facing a true threat.”

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