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‘Trust that work is being done:’ New Hanover commissioners hear update on plan to address school safety, community violence

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 4:31 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County commissioners got a formal update Monday morning from a team tasked with making schools safer.

It’s part of a larger effort to address the root cause of violence in our community, and comes after commissioners authorized the use of a $350 million escrow fund from the sale of the hospital to accomplish that goal.

The plan is still in its very early stages and leaders don’t have a hard timeline or cost yet, but the priorities are beginning to take shape

Monday morning, County Manager Chris Coudriet briefed commissioners about a work session held Friday where community members started brainstorming a plan.

Coudriet touched on half a dozen goals they’re working toward: three being related to “hardscape” upgrades including reviewing the 2019 school safety audits, implementing a platform that allows staff to monitor pending threats and crises, and overhauling how schools communicate with families in a lockdown or critical situation.

The county manager spoke candidly to commissioners, without a formal presentation and shared hopes of making schools safer and more beautiful at the same time, and honing in on the power of social media to alert administrators of a threat well before it escalates.

The three remaining goals are more “people-centric,” and include championing diversity efforts, streamlining existing resources and making sure families have access to mental health support and counseling.

“Many of the programs are already in place. It’s about communication, it seems to be at this stage and we will also layer on those other initiatives, and we will take a look at other programs that are happening around the state and around our country,” said commissioner Rob Zapple. “It’s all about creating that safe learning environment and regaining the public’s trust after being shattered so much by what happened in New Hanover High School. That was miserable, I know myself being a parent and grandparent. It really shook the foundation and we have a group of people within our community who are building it back.”

One topic brought forward Monday by the county manager is that some of the planning going forward might not be as public. Coudriet says some of the community members working on this project don’t want a camera in their face, and leaders won’t be able to share confidential documents like school safety audits that would jeopardize student security. Additionally, some plans to correct security vulnerabilities from the audit couldn’t be publicly discussed.

“There are investments that we’re gonna have to make that maybe we don’t want them to be put up on the public stage to begin to debate the merits of it because maybe the experts agreed this is what we need to do, but nonetheless, we will inform the board and when our board is informed, we’re gonna make sure our community is informed. The accountability comes in that we can’t spend money inconsistent with policy or law,” said Coudriet. “Trust that there are good people that are working on this, that their priority is to fix what is happening in our community and I mentioned it to the board-- if you trust. and I know people do-- our nonprofit leaders and you trust in our teachers and others, those are the folks that are bringing these ideas forward. Trust that work is being done and there will be evidence of success I hope sooner rather than later.”

The county’s communication team is working now to develop online feedback opportunities as well as community forums. County leadership have created a webpage to share information with the community along the way.

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