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Orange County Schools partners with Sheriff's office to discuss new safety policies

Orange County Sheriff's Office and Orange County Schools are teaming up to possibly change safety policies in response to last month's school shooting in Parkland, Fla. 

“Each time there is an incident, even though we may not be directly involved, we certainly review any of our plans that we have in place and look at ways we can more effectively address concerns to ensure our school system finds best ways to increase the safety if its measure,” said Patrick Abele, chief operations officer for the school district.

The county is no stranger to emergency situations with active shooters, said Sheriff Charles Blackwood, and they are ready to respond whether the threat is at a shopping mall, a private residence or a school.

The school district already does lockdown training with staff every year and is also starting to do emergency preparedness drills throughout the year, but Blackwood said he is also working with the fire department to change the way they respond to fire alarms in schools, in light of the Florida shooting. 

“Since I was in the first grade, when the alarm goes you line up you get out the door. Right now. Fast,” Blackwood said. “Would four or five seconds really matter? Well, it would have for those children in Florida. If they’d have stayed in that school room instead of running out in the hallway when the alarm went off, many of them would be here today.”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore announced Feb. 20 that he's forming a new school safety committee, which may consider arming teachers. Blackwood said he doesn’t think arming teachers is the best solution. 

“When you talk to teachers, none of them really want to take on that role (of being armed), and it’s a role that I don’t they ought to take on,” he said. “As long as we have law enforcement in the schools responding to those needs, that’s what our job is and that’s what we want to be able to do.”

Regarding law enforcement in schools, Blackwood said he also wants to reform school resource officers and create a more specialized training program for them. He said he wants to recruit young, energetic officers to become SROs, rather than older officers nearing the end of their careers. 

“I’m not going to kick a retiree that wants to come back and help, but a retiree with 35, 40 years under his belt might not be as willing to jump off the high dime,” he said. “And that’s what’s going to have to happen when these catastrophic events occur.”

Despite changes Blackwood and the district may make in the coming months to improve school safety, Blackwood said he doesn’t think anyone will ever completely end school shootings.

“We have not stopped bank robberies, and ever since the first bank was built they’ve been robbed,” he said. “And one will be robbed tomorrow.”

The same, Blackwood said, can be said about school shootings. Instead, Blackwood said the district and the police department need to do a better job with the information they have to help students before violent situations occur.


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