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Safety in Bladen County Schools

By Charlotte Smith

Bladen County Schools have been discussing safety at recent meetings with the Bladen County Board of Education. At the July meeting with the Bladen County Board of Education, Ricky Davis, with RICE Security & Consulting, gave a presentation to the board members about their services.

In March of this year, the Bladen County Board of Education approved a $63,000 contract with RICE Security & Consulting for a holistic approach on security issues facing the schools, according to Dr. Robert Taylor, Bladen County Schools Superintendent.  In July, three representatives with RICE Security gave an oral presentation about their company’s services to the board.

Dr. Taylor stated that at the July meeting, a plan from RICE Security would be presented to the board and it would be modified due to COVID-19.

Bladen Online and Dr. Cathy Gantz, Director of Bladen County Substance Abuse Task force, sat down recently with Dr. Taylor about the schools’ security concerns and the plan of action.

Dr. Robert Taylor, Bladen County Schools Superintendent

Dr. Taylor said he was not sure if the new security plan from RICE Security had been released to the Bladen County School Board of Education members yet or not.

Sgt. Gary Turlington, with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, provided the security consulting for Bladen County Schools from 2016 until 2020. Many security concerns sent as memos to Dr. Taylor from Sgt. Turlington have never been addressed over the years.

Dr. Taylor said, “I can’t speak as to whether or not issues have been addressed because some of those have been addressed, some have not.”

According to Dr. Taylor, people could mitigate some of the safety concerns, some safety requests were not implemented because of fire marshal codes, and other safety issues require funding.

“Even the most secure building can be breached,” Dr. Taylor stated as he mentioned the Sandy Hook School shooting.

RICE Security is supposed to provide a new plan for the security of Bladen County Schools. Sgt. Turlington no longer offers security consulting for the schools.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented new safety concerns for schools to consider.

“I’ve got a warehouse full of masks… We got a shipment of 750 lbs. of masks,” Dr. Taylor said. They were shipped by the North Carolina Department of Public instruction and are Hanes brand masks made in Vietnam.

Transportation is another safety issue for students and staff during the COVID-19 Pandemic. According to Dr. Taylor, no more than 24 students can be on a bus.

The School Lunch Program poses risks, according to Dr. Taylor, and the current feeding plan, known as the “Summer Feeding Program”, pays more than the traditional lunch program.

Some teachers living with compromised family situations may be more at risk for COVID-19. Dr. Taylor said, “A lot of these people have said if they come back, I’m not coming back. I will go ahead and retire.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic has related substance abuse issues, according to law enforcement. Dr. Cathy Gantz, Bladen County Substance Abuse Task Force Director, mentioned the concerns with the increase of Substance Abuse and its effect on students.

Dr. Cathy Gantz, Bladen County Substance Abuse Task Force Director

Dr. Gantz explained in the meeting, “We had several community forums with a group from Pittsboro, NC, that ended in October last year, where we were trying to glean data to develop a strategic action plan for Bladen. In that process, there were recommendations made, and because of COVID, we haven’t been able to implement them.”

Dr. Gantz told Dr. Taylor she wanted to meet with the School Resource Officers for the Bladen Substance Abuse Action plan because their input is needed to complete the plan.

“It is a concern for everyone in the community, and safety is so important for the boys and girls.”

According to Dr. Taylor, there are funds available for a little over seven School Resource Officers (SRO) to assist Bladen County Schools students and staff members. Dr. Taylor told Dr. Gantz he would make sure the SROs would be available to meet.

The Bladen County Board of Education is scheduled to meet virtually on Monday, August 10 at 6 p.m. The agenda does not list an update on the security issues. A web link will be activated prior to the meeting to allow the public to listen to the meeting virtually. The meeting link will be published and accessible on the Bladen County Schools’ website at www.bladen.k12.nc.us

However, Dr. Taylor released the Bladen County Schools Reopening Plan, which lists three plans addressing some of the safety concerns. Bladen County School also recently released a new survey in reference to Internet access for students. Find out more by visiting Bladen County Schools website at: https://www.bladen.k12.nc.us/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=3133&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=6165&PageID=1

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