During their May 28 meeting, Buncombe County commissioners heard from members of the Safe Schools Task Force, which was formed in the wake of December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 students dead. Charged with evaluating the safety of Buncombe County schools, the group made a number of recommendations to commissioners, including:
• Renovating entry systems at several schools to better track who comes and goes.
• Installing additional cameras at schools and on buses.
• Hiring seven additional School Resource Officers – one for each of the six elementary school districts. And hiring an additional unarmed security guard at each high school campus.
• Providing preventative mental health services by implementing an anti-bullying curriculum and hiring more counselors and social workers to work with students.
Commissioners didn't vote on the recommendations, although County Manager Wanda Greene's budget proposal includes $1.26 million to hire eight new social workers and seven school resource officers. A survey of parents conducted by the task force showed respondents strongly supporting the measures.
However, Commissioner Mike Fryar expressed skepticism, questioning an approach of what he said he sees as overreacting to tragedies.
"We just had a tornado that killed 10 kids, so are we going to build all the schools tornado proof?" he asked sarcastically, adding: "We cannot stop everything from happening in this world by putting an officer in place."
In response, David Thompson, who served on the task force and works as the director of student services for Buncombe County schools, noted that the recommendations won't solve all the problems, but asserted that they "will help us be a safer school system."
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan also said he thinks the recommendations are a step in the right direction, although he noted that the task force was limited by budget concerns. Ideally, he said, each school would have an armed officer on site, but worried that the cost would be prohibitive.
Meanwhile, Board Chair David Gantt voiced strong support, declaring: "We clearly have a moral obligation to make sure our kids are safe, and protected, and getting their mental health needs taken care of."
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