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The Daily Tar Heel

School Officials Push for Safety

With the start of another school year, local education leaders remain torn on the best method to remedy the alarming trend of violence in schools.

While some school systems are beefing up security efforts, others are putting emphasis on communication between students and faculty.

During their first day back at school Wednesday, students at A.L. Stanback Middle School cruised the halls in newly mandated transparent bookbags made of clear plastic or mesh.

Stanback Principal Alisa McLean said the backpack restriction developed from student suggestions on how to make the school a safer place.

"We realized that we were going to have to do something different but not (something) alarming,"she said. "We didn't want to be as drastic as saying no backpacks, so we think this is a happy medium."

In addition to the new backpacks, students must display ID cards and visitors are required to wear fluorescent arm bracelets, McLean said.

However, Neil Pedersen, superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said no extra precautions were being taken at the schools in his district.

"There are not going to be any metal detectors or additional security,"he said. "We want to make sure the students are well-supervised and that they know the expectations."

Pedersen said he wanted the school year to start on a positive note, focused on academics.

Kim Hoke, spokeswoman for the system, said communication between students, parents and faculty was key.

"Codes of student conduct will be re-emphasized and information will be distributed to both students and parents outlining new penalties for violent acts committed in school,"she said.

A police officer will also be present at each school, she said. The state requires every school to have a "safe school plan," which outlines the way the school is made safe for students.

While the guidelines of the plan are set by the state, the specifics are determined by individual school officials.

"One size does not fit all," said Chip Grammer, security supervisor for the Cumberland County School System. "We have individual safe school plans tailored to meet the individual school's needs."

David Christenbury, principal of Grey Culbreth Middle School, said his school's plan had not changed much.

"We haven't added any new initiatives but we've revisited our crisis plan and safe schools plan," he said.

Christenbury said the biggest factor in promoting safety was communication between students and faculty.

"You could have 25 police officers, and something could still happen," he said. "We want the students to feel comfortable talking with us, especially if they see or hear something unusual."

Pedersen said the Columbine High School shooting last spring heightened sensitivity to distressed students.

"After Columbine everyone was on edge and apprehensive about the least little thing," he said. "We will continue to be vigilant, but Ithink the nervousness and anxiety has dissipated."

Despite apprehensions, Hoke said the first day in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools was routine, as expected.

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"All of the children were in class, the teachers were teaching from the beginning of the day," she said. "The day seemed to proceed very smoothly."

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