Behind closed doors, Wake school leaders discuss student safety after stabbing death | #schoolsaftey

CARY, N.C. — The Wake County school board held a closed session Tuesday to discuss confidential safety matters a day after a student was fatally stabbed at Southeast Raleigh High School.

“We are going to always evaluate what our security issues are, and that’s what this upcoming meeting is going to be about,” Wake County Board of Education Chairwoman Lindsay Mahaffey said when asked by reporters if the board was considering new security measures, including metal detectors, to keep weapons out of schools.

After closed session, Superintendent Robert Taylor spoke briefly, offering support for the school and its principal as the school tries to help students deal with the trauma of Monday’s events.

“We want to express to the community that our number one responsibility is making sure that students are in a mentally safe place, that we recognize what has happened, and that the first thing we want to do is to let them know that we are there for them,” Taylor said.

Before going into closed session, the board committee took a moment of silence to recognize Monday’s incident. Friends and family have identified the victim as 15-year-old Delvin Ferrell. A 14-year-old is in custody facing a juvenile petition in the fatal stabbing. Police said the stabbing happened during a fight involving several students.

“The level of grief, heartache, and pain we are all experiencing is something that is going to take time to mend and come to terms with,” said board member Tara Waters, whose district includes Southeast Raleigh High School. “But the work we’re going to do today and moving forward will help us come to a place where we can ensure safety of students in our buildings.”

The board’s safety and security committee had already been scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss a proposed policy that would prohibit traditional purses and bags at high school spectator events, instead allowing only clear bags. Its intent is to deter people from bringing knives or other weapons to plays or sporting events or other extracurricular activities. Discussion of that policy was postponed.

Mahaffey declined to provide reporters with further details about the closed-door meeting. She said legal advice prevents the board from sharing any information that might expose the school system’s security vulnerabilities. That means she also can’t say what the school board is working on in terms of upgrades. It is actively pursuing some physical security upgrades, though they don’t include metal detectors.

Mahaffey said she understands parents would want to know details.

“As a parent myself, I understand that feeling,” she said. “There are things that I want to know that my children are safe, every parent, every mother, every grandparent family member wants that assurance. But we also can’t give away the keys to the castle and let folks know that we’re doing, because we do have to have some things be more confidential so that our children are safe.”

Mahaffey declined to say whether the school board was exploring more staff training or bullying or conflict reduction efforts.

“When it comes to personnel, we know that we need more social workers,” she said. “We know that we need more counselors, we know that we need more teachers.”

The clear-bag proposal, which was already scheduled for discussion, wouldn’t apply to the normal school day, such as the hours when two people were stabbed, including one fatally, by a student following an altercation. Its intent is to deter people from bringing knives or other weapons to plays or sporting events or other extracurricular activities.

On Monday, school officials said they would help support grieving students and faculty and they promised to ensure that students and families feel safe and supported when the school reopens. They also said they would continue to improve school safety and review safety processes and protocols to determine what happened and what changes may need to be made.

“Every parent in this district puts their trust in us when they send their child to school,” Mahaffey and Taylor said in a joint statement to parents. “All acts of violence in our schools are unacceptable.”

They said the board was worked to enhance safety measures by authorizing independent security assessments of every school over the past several years, and they pointed to upgraded visitor management systems. “Some of this work is unseen — like security infrastructure and technology improvements,” they said in the statement. “The unseen part is intentional, as revealing specific details of security plans can create additional risks. But we want to assure you that our board has approved funding for these critical security improvements, and they will move forward.”

Some school principals have for months been asking system officials for a policy allowing only clear bags at some events, according to a presentation compiled for school board members. Officials say it’s a safety measure, although it’s unclear whether the bags would be searched. The policy wouldn’t apply to the normal school day, such as the hours when Monday’s incident occurred, but the proposal is part of a the broader puzzle of keeping weapons out of schools.
In August, Wake’s Millbrook Magnet High School began allowing only clear bags into athletic events, except for small clutch bags and medical bags, months after a student was found to have brought a loaded assault rifle into a basketball game. The student didn’t fire the weapon. The school also began requiring jackets to be open upon entry, limited entry to just one door, and prohibited re-entry into the game for people who had already left.

Bringing a weapon to school is a crime, even if the weapon isn’t used. Weapons are sometimes brought to campuses, although they are rarely used in crimes when they are.

During the 2021-22 school year, 3,292 students were reported for bringing a weapon to a North Carolina public and charter school campuses, usually a knife, according to the state Department of Public Instruction, which compiles annual data on reportable criminal offenses in schools. The data shows the number of students reported for an offense, not necessarily the number of criminal incidents that occurred. The latest year of available data is from the 2021-22 school year, when the total was up from some recent years but less than a decade ago. During the year, 62 students were reported for an assault involving a weapon, up from the year before but less than a decade ago.

In the Wake County Public School System, five students were reported during the 2021-22 school year for assault using a weapon at school, while 442 students were reported for bringing weapons to school. Eight students were reported for bringing a firearm to campus.

Wake County doesn’t use metal detectors, some of which could detect some knives. Traditional metal detectors could cost millions of dollars and prompt long lines to get into school. Some newer weapons detection systems often don’t catch knives.

Data showing criminal stats shows Southeast Raleigh High School has a far higher rate of criminal acts and arrests than the rest of Wake County or the state of North Carolina. Southeast Raleigh High School has 30.84 criminal acts per 1,000 students, compared with only 9.45 from in Wake County Public Schools and 8.77 in North Carolina. Arrests are also 1.47 at Southeast Raleigh High School, compared with .49 in Wake County and .09 in North Carolina.

The school board’s safety and security committee was also scheduled to discuss the upcoming renewal of the district’s agreement with school resource officers. No changes are so far being suggested. That discussion will also occur at a later date now.

There’s no proposed timetable for when such a policy would actually be voted on by the full board or when it would go into effect. If implemented, it would apply to high schools first, while officials determine if the policy could be used in middle schools, as well.Clear bags are commonly required at professional sporting events, concerts and many higher-level college athletics competitions. Other school systems, such as Guilford County Schools, also have clear-bag policies. The Wake proposal doesn’t address any safety measures other than what types of bags can be bought into events.

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