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Schools strengthen security measures

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As Carroll students prepare to return to class, new protections are in place. The new school year will bring traffic changes in Hillsville, too, police warn.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — New security protocols at all Carroll County Public Schools will greet visitors when the fall term starts up next week.
It’s something that students won’t run into much — unless they’re late for school — but parents and other visitors will have to be buzzed in to the facilities at the front doors.
Several elements have come together to make for more secure Carroll schools, including administrative office improvements that put the staff in a better position  to monitor the front entrances.

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Over the years, Carroll has also added school resource officers at the high and middle schools, and a third officer to cover the remaining facilities is stationed at St. Paul School.
The latest security measure came from funding for a buzz-in system made available to the school board by the Carroll Board of Supervisors, according to Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship.
School officials made a request for more school security measures after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut killed 20 students and six staff members last year.
The superintendent wants all Carroll schools to still be welcoming, but also safe for students and staff.
He expects it will take time to get used to new security measures.
“It’s going to be different for parents,” Blankenship said. “We’re going to have to ask them for patience while we figure it out, as well.”
The procedure will take a few moments, as the visitor will have to present themselves at the front door and hit a call button.
The visitor will have to stand in front of cameras at the door, while an image of their front and back will be displayed on a large monitor inside the office.
Visitors will be asked to state their name and their business at the school and present a picture identification once they get inside.
First thing in the mornings, when the buses unload, students will pass through open doors with teachers monitoring the activity there.
The doors will be locked at the beginning of the school day.
Standalone buildings, like the fieldhouse at the high school, will also have their own buzz-in system. Blankenship said teachers and the assistant principal in the fieldhouse will be stationed at the door in between classes.
As a part of the security system, teachers will have swipe cards to gain entry to schools.
If the power goes out, the security system is programmed to lock all doors.
While schools occasionally have problems with individuals wedging open doors that should remain locked and closed, school staff will have to remain vigilant to prevent that, Blankenship said. Discipline will follow for offenders, because propped open doors will undermine this security system.
If a teacher ID is ever lost, it will be deactivated as soon as possible, the superintendent said. The security system can also track all badges whenever they are used to open a door.
Afterschool sports and community events will be handled the same ways as they have been, with staff on duty opening the doors for participants.
Three school resource officers help patrol the schools. Blankenship also noted the school system has a close relationship with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff J.B. Gardner, who used to be a resource office himself and understands school issues.
In other security upgrades, school officials have updated any remaining analog cameras on school buses to digital. Blankenship said cameras that still used tapes were prone to malfunctioning.
“When we get all this, we’ll be probably more secure than any time I’ve been here,” Blankenship said. “Our goal is to keep our kids and our staff safe, and that’s our bottom line.”

School changes will alter, increase traffic in Hillsville
Realignment of Carroll County high and middle school grades will  change traffic patterns and increase traffic volumes around those facilities, highlighting the need for drivers to exercise caution as the fall semester approaches.
Carroll County Middle School will house three grade levels instead of two this year, meaning more students, more parents dropping off their children and a greater number of staff heading to the facility, Hillsville Police Chief Greg Bolen noted.
The additions made to the middle school necessitate a new traffic pattern, as educators and authorities will send passenger cars down Quesinberry Street and to the back of the facility where a new student drop-off area is located, according to Bolen and Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship.
That will correct one concern many have shared over the years  — youth getting out of vehicles on Main Street and crossing in front of the high number of cars using that major north-south artery.
“The design of new construction was to get parent drop-off away from Main Street,” Blankenship noted. “Parents have been sent information regarding the new traffic pattern behind the building. This was designed to get students off Route 52 — a very dangerous situation."
With younger students and a larger number of students, "we ask our parents to use the drop-off and pick-up loop as it was designed,” he said. “Safety is at the heart of this change. We had a number of vehicle accidents and close calls with students on the highway.”
Sending more cars down Quesinberry Street will mean more vehicles turning there, with northbound traffic on U.S. 52 having to go across the opposing lane, and it could create a bottleneck at the neighborhood street.
Bolen said the amount of students and staff also will increase at the high school, as the ninth grade has been added at that facility.
Carroll County Public Schools puts the enrollment change at the high school at about 250 more students in grades 9-12 and nearly 300 more in grades 6-8 at the middle school.
These new conditions, as well as a need to get drivers back into the groove for the new school year, has led to the Hillsville Police Department kicking off a traffic safety campaign to coincide with the beginning of the fall semester.
“The reason why we’re going to do this campaign is we’re hoping to promote highway safety,” Bolen said.
Motorists are advised to watch for students in all school zones throughout Carroll County when the fall semester begins Tuesday.
“We also would remind all drivers that school starts on Aug. 13, and there will be school buses on the roads and congestion around the school buildings,” Blankenship stressed.
Carroll Sheriff J.B. Gardner asked drivers to slow down, watch out for school buses and leave a little earlier to cope with higher amounts of traffic on the roads.
“We want the children home safe every day,” Gardner said.
Hillsville Police Department officers will step up their patrols during the back-to-school safety campaign, Bolen said. Observing at major thoroughfares and intersections will also be a priority while officers are on patrol.
“We’re going to be very visible, not only in the school zones,” the chief said. “Morning and evening, being out and hitting those areas extra, just to get people used to school being back in session.”