Report Shows Security Not Tight at New Hanover Co. Schools

NEW HANOVER CO. -- A new report on security at New Hanover County schools hasn't been made public until now.

The report spells out what happened when a team of trained UNCW researchers posing as "intruders" tried to gain access to the hallways at each public school. Even as the system tries to toughen security in the wake of a series of frightening and deadly incidents across the country, the intruders were in schools nearly twice as long this year as they were last year.

Elementary school children are the most vulnerable. In 2005, the intruders were stopped and escorted to the front office in an average of 12 minutes. When they went back twice in April of this year they wandered the halls for an average of 23 minutes. In fact, at two schools no one challenged them at all for a full hour. The bottom line, the report concludes: "Intruders had access to unsupervised young children."

Assistant Superintendent Al Lerch did find a bright spot in the report. He says this year, school staff did question the intruders more quickly, but were too slow taking strong action to remove what he says could be terrorists.

"You really want to hurt the heartland, you pick out a non-descript elementary school and walk in. We don't want to be that one school in one hundred thousand," Lerch said.

WECT obtained the report on the security tests by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. That's the law that compels government agencies to release documents if asked. After about a week's time, it showed up in the mail at the television station. It did not contain school-by-school results. If your child attends a New Hanover County school and you want to know whether that school passed the test, you should ask the principal.

Reported by Jim Hanchett