Camden school hopefuls debate school safety
By Reggie Ponder
Monday, October 22, 2018
CAMDEN — The six candidates seeking three seats on the Camden Board of Education advocate different approaches to school safety ranging from upgrading door locks to arming teachers who are trained and willing to assist with school security.
School safety is a constant concern in Camden County’s small public school district. The district recently added a second school resource officer and school administrators continue to push for more advanced technology to support school safety.
Although the schools currently have a total of two school resource officers for four schools, school board candidate Eleanora Doane-Butts, a career teacher in the Virginia Beach, Va., public school system, argues the schools need more security than can be achieved through SROs alone.
“I think that they should not just have the school resource officer but I think they also should employ some laypersons as security personnel,” Butts said.
The schools might be able to use permanent substitutes with military experience to meet some of the need for additional security personnel, she said.
“I also feel that there should be at least one teacher, based on the population of that school, who should be armed to some degree,” Butts said.
One SRO and two additional security personnel are needed at each school, she said. If the school district can only pay for the school resource officer, then at least one teacher with appropriate training and background should also be armed, she said.
Retired educator Roger Morgan, who like Butts is making his first bid for elective office, mentioned the work that already has been done in the Camden schools through a local citizen organization, L.O.C.K.S., an acronym for Local Organizers Caring about Kids Safety.
According to Morgan, the L.O.C.K.S. community group has done a good job of providing improved safety equipment such as advanced door locks. But teachers and school staff also need more training responding to emergencies at school, he said.
“They need to look at making teachers better prepared for situations that come about in emergencies, where they would need more training,” Morgan said.
Another first-time candidate, Chris Purcell, a businessman and firefighter, said Camden Superintendent Joe Ferrell has brought a renewed emphasis on school safety.
“Our new superintendent has a strong, strong view of safety and security probably being his number one priority,” Purcell said.
Building a new high school will get students out of the mobile units that are currently housing early college classes on the existing Camden High School campus, Purcell said. The mobile units are less safe than regular school buildings, so getting all classes into conventional buildings would be a boost for safety, he said.
“I would love to see a school resource officer in every school in Camden,” Purcell also said.
Purcell acknowledged that funding is a concern but noted the school district got a grant that is paying for the second SRO. The school board needs to work on a funding plan for safety improvements, and community fundraising such as what is being done by L.O.C.K.S. could play a role, he said.
Incumbent board member Sissy Aydlett, a nurse and administrator with Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, said improving school safety will take everyone working together.
“We need to realize that school safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Aydlett said. “Maintaining ongoing safety and security measures along with extensive training for both staff and students is also essential. Last year when I was visiting one of our schools, I was unable to enter a locked door on the breezeway. The students would not let me in and I was honestly thrilled.”
Tiffany Bounds, a mother of four making her second bid for a Camden school board seat, said an important safety feature would be installing key-card locks on all school exterior doors.
“It would take out the danger of extra metal keys floating around if one is lost, copied or stolen,” Bounds said. “It would also allow for closer monitoring of people entering the building.”
Bounds said buzz-in doors should be used in areas where students travel outside between classes, and schools also should have “bank teller” style drop-off windows “so parents and visitors don't have to enter the building fully to communicate with the office or to do a quick item drop-off.”
The schools also need to schedule time to teach students about topics such as bullying and internet safety, Bounds said.
“Not all safety problems can be stopped using walls alone,” she said.
Dr. Jason Banks, an incumbent board member who practices dentistry in Elizabeth City, said any improvements that could be made to school surveillance systems and entry systems would be beneficial. L.O.C.K.S. has been very helpful in raising money for those kinds of improvements, he said.
Banks said he also appreciates the support the schools have received from the county for improving school safety.
“I am grateful for having a second school resource officer,” Banks said.
The Watch D.O.G.S. program also could be a good addition, he said. Watch D.OG.S. is a volunteer program that brings fathers of students and other men from the community into the schools on a regular basis.