In a recent blog post I wrote about a parent presentation by Dr. Wendy Mogel, who cautioned parents against over-sheltering their children. This makes sense from the author of a book called “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.”

This month, I want to cover the flip-side of that spectrum and discuss how we at Cary Academy seek to provide a safe and secure environment for our students — so we as parents don’t have to worry as much!

Emergency Management Team
Campus safety and security falls under the umbrella of our Emergency Management Team (EMT). This group consists of leaders from all key operational areas of the school. The team meets monthly to review protocols and operational procedures. Meetings are also called on an as-needed basis throughout the year.

The school’s security guidelines and response measures are outlined in our 600-page “Emergency, Safety, and Security Manual.” This manual was pulled together from existing policies and procedures in 1998. The school conducted an extensive internal review of the manual in 2011-2012, using shared resources from Ravenscroft, Durham Academy, University of Chicago Lab Schools, Wake County Public Schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools. Each year, members of the EMT also discuss possible changes in protocols with the security team at SAS and with the Cary Police and Fire Departments. The police have been on campus for our lockdown drills each of the last two years.

What’s in our Guide?
Our safety and security guidelines and protocols cover just about every imaginable scenario. To name just a few: severe weather, power failure, armed intruders, threats of violence, emergency communications, medical emergencies, family emergencies, and school bus accidents.

As you might imagine, many of the scenarios involve decision-making in highly fluid situations or when critical information is lacking. An example might be when the school hears rumors about potential threats to individuals or the campus. Our protocols outline procedures to follow, always beginning with the mantra: Take All Threats Seriously. Paths of action are dictated depending on the severity of the hypothetical threat (a fight, bullying, a bomb), the target (self, others, non-specific), and the timeline (imminent, fixed time in the future, general time in the future). Often times, individuals will come to an adult in the building having heard something second or third hand: “We just thought you should know.” In some cases an immediate call for outside support may be warranted, but when dealing with rumors we most often conduct an investigation to separate facts from hearsay before making a decision about a response. We often rely on other experts in the building to help assess a given situation, but sometimes we must defer judgement to an outside source as well. This past January, the school partnered with InterAct of Wake County to conduct mandatory training for all Cary Academy employees (including external coaches) on how to identify and prevent violence against children.

Next Steps
While we feel good about the work we’ve done to establish guidelines for safety and security at Cary Academy, we do feel it is important to check our practices against external measures. Toward that end, we have hired an outside firm to conduct a safety and security audit at the school. The selected firm has worked with SAS, several schools with the UNC system, Elon University, and High Point University. They are conducting a comprehensive review of our emergency policies, an evaluation of our physical security profile, and a review of our risk management procedures. They will provide a report for our Emergency Management Team to guide continued improvements in policies and procedures as well as set direction for possible changes to staffing or physical security around the campus.

As you might imagine, there are reasons why we would not seek to be completely transparent with our security systems at the school. However, we do recognize that families place a great deal of trust in Cary Academy for the safety of your most precious asset. It is a trust that we take with the utmost responsibility.