WILMINGTON — School board members and district officials had one clear message for students, parents and the community Thursday during an afternoon press conference.
“We’re going to continue to hold fast and press hard on anyone who brings a weapon into the school,” Superintendent Charles Foust said. “And if you know of a weapon that is in the schools, we’re going to be pushing that you are held just as accountable for the person who brings it.”
READ MORE: Ashley HS student arrested for bringing loaded handgun to campus
The conference was held in response to law enforcement finding a loaded gun on Ashley High School’s campus, the second in nine days.
On April 25, 18-year-old Kshaun Ahmad Williams was arrested when school resource officers found a loaded Glock 19 9mm handgun with an extended magazine after Williams’ belongings were searched for a vaping device.
Thursday, Lt. Jerry Brewer of New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said a loaded pistol was located on Ashley High School’s campus earlier in the day. The incident is under investigation, but no student is in custody currently.
WECT, Port City Daily’s media partner, is reporting a drug search was being conducted when a student attempted to flee police and disposed of the weapon. Brewer said he didn’t have those details and referred PCD to the school administration.
Chief Communications Officer Josh Smith responded with the message sent to all families upon the shelter-in-place going into effect Thursday afternoon (see the full message at the end of the article).
Students at three schools in Veterans Park were ordered to shelter-in-place upon officials locating the gun. It affected Anderson Elementary, Murray Middle and Ashley High schools.
Last week’s incident didn’t require a shelter in place, school board chair Pete Wildeboer said at the podium: “No one was hurt, the weapons were found, the students were safe … The young man was [arrested] quickly.”
He praised the district’s communication team for getting the word out swiftly to parents Thursday as well.
“You’ve probably seen us argue at times, but there’s not a board member standing behind me or the superintendent that doesn’t think this is a huge part of what we need to do,” Wildeboer said. “Academics are very, very important, but keeping students safe is what we do and that comes from my heart.”
The board is in “lockstep” on school safety and recently spent two hours in closed session discussing measures and protocol, he divulged. It’s a priority in the board’s strategic plan.
“There was a misnomer the other day that we canceled the safety discussion,” he said. “That is not true; that will be presented at the next board meeting.”
Wildeboer added stricter improvements were coming to the schools, but also touted New Hanover for having the most SROs “than any county” in the vicinity, with more than 60. NHCS conducts random searches and also has installed security vestibules, an added layer of protection requiring visitors to be buzzed into the schools.
“Parents, the community will see a more aggressive approach,” Foust stated.
Effective tomorrow, law enforcement K-9s will be placed in most schools to search for drugs and weapons. Smith could not confirm at this time how many schools it would affect.
“And that will be the first attempt,” Foust said. “We are tired of it and I know parents are tired of it.”
Some community members have suggested metal detectors be installed, which Wildeboer said the board was considering among other options, such as hand wand detectors. However, full metal detectors wouldn’t necessarily be installed at every school door, so it wouldn’t be foolproof.
“At New Hanover High School, there’s so many exits,” Wildeboer said. “But we’re looking at all possibilities.”
An idea floated to have one school entryway for students to go through in the morning wasn’t feasible, according to Foust.
“It would be somewhat difficult to get 2,200 kids through one entrance, so we’re looking at other measures of what would be the best plan of action,” he said.
A couple of years ago a Total Safety and Security Survey was conducted, Wildeboer noted. He planned to assess recommendations made back then to see if any ideas are approachable today.
“We are taking back our schools,” Foust said. “I have shared with our safety and security folks: You do everything you need to do to make sure it happens.”
The message sent to parents earlier Thursday:
“Good Afternoon Veterans Park Campus Families,
“We want to inform you that earlier today, all schools on the Veterans Park Campus, including Anderson Elementary, Murray Middle School, and Ashley High School, were placed in a shelter-in-place due to an incident involving a minor, which was promptly addressed by law enforcement. As the individual involved is under 18, certain details cannot be shared publicly in accordance with the law. However, we can confirm that a weapon was found on Ashley’s campus.
“The safety and security of our students and staff remains a top priority, and we are dedicated to maintaining a secure environment. Your cooperation is vital in keeping our campus a safe and welcoming place for all.
“Today’s dismissal will proceed as planned, but please expect delays due to an increased number of parents picking up their children. We appreciate your understanding and patience during this time.
“We also encourage everyone to use the “Say Something” app provided by Sandy Hook Promise to submit anonymous tips on safety-related issues. More information can be found on the NHCS website, and you can download the app at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/say-something-tips/.”
Tips or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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