Orange County (NC) Schools posts deputies in elementary schools

HILLSBOROUGH – Orange County Schools posted a police officer or sheriff’s deputy in each of its six elementary schools this week to reassure uneasy parents in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill Police Departments have also increased their patrols around elementary schools this week, either on their own initiative or at the request of the district.

“I think it’s fair to say that the officers that have volunteered to come to our elementary schools have wanted to make a visible show of support for our school communities,” Durham Public Schools spokesman Chip Sudderth said.

The increased security at Orange County elementary schools was not due to any specific threat, said spokesman Michael Gilbert, but just how Superintendent Patrick Rhodes wanted to address any concerns parents may have had this week. The extra police presence will end Friday, when students leave for the holiday break.

When Orange County students return Jan. 2, Rhodes will meet with Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass to assess the program and discuss the possibility of school resource officers SROs, being posted at the elementary schools in the future.

All the district’s middle and high schools have permanent SROs when school is in session, a common practice in Triangle school districts. It is unusual for police officers to be posted in elementary schools, however.

“There aren’t any long-term plans to place SROs in elementaries right now,” Rhodes said. “I don’t know if it’s a possibility. All those things are driven by budgetary factors. There may be other ways to add that same sense of security.”

Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools spokesman Jeff Nash said he was not aware of any discussions in the district to post police officers in every elementary school.

Orange County Schools completed a review of its security procedures and crisis plans Tuesday with on-site visits to all the schools from the district’s safety officer, who made recommendations for improvements. The district has a sophisticated crisis response plan due to a federal emergency preparedness grant it received in 2008.

“We have cameras in every school, detailed, comprehensive and actionable safety plans, threat assessment training by national experts and exercises with the sheriff’s department,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got a very good safety plan.”

Nash said Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will be interested in seeing the final report of investigators examining the security measures at Sandy Hook Elementary after the shooting to compare security plans and re-examine what can be improved.

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