April 21, 2023

A Review of CPS Safety and Emergency Procedures

Superintendent Stewart reviews some of the most frequently-asked questions about safety procedures at Charlotte Public Schools

As recent events around the country with school safety has security as our main priority, it is a good time to review our procedures at Charlotte Public Schools.  We work very closely with our local law enforcement, including our School Resource Officer, to prevent and resolve security and safety issues. As we had social media concern last week, it reminded me that we should share our protocols for our students’ safety, so you are aware of what we do in a potential emergency. As a district, we take any safety concerns seriously, and enact the most secure response, as we investigate further to solve the issue. Below are our frequently asked questions/statements:

Why would a school need to go into lockdown and what does that look like for my student?

There are many reasons for emergency plans to occur, severe weather, a medical emergency, outside person of concern, intruder, etc. We have different levels of response according to the level of concern.  The most extreme plan would be a full lockdown, where all doors (interior/exterior) are locked, lights are off, and everyone is out of site from windows/doors. This is very rare, but we do practice these as drills.

We might also have a shelter in place plan, where all doors are closed, but instruction is still occurring in the classroom.  This might happen if we have a medical emergency, and we need to get EMS through the halls without traffic.

We also can have a perimeter lockdown, where visitors cannot enter and students need to stay in the building.  This might happen if there is a weather emergency or an outside concern. All responses are connected with the level of emergency, and our goal is to keep students as safe as possible, without significant interruptions to instruction.

Another option, as happened recently at Charlotte Middle School, our Charlotte Police Department may have cleared the safety concern, but we still need time communicate with staff/students regarding any schedule changes (i.e. what hour should they report to, postponement of standardized testing, etc.) so students may be held in their current location until plans are solidified.  This is a temporary hold, not a lockdown, as this is a communication based delay.

What happens when someone reports a security concern?

CPS has an emergency response plan that was developed with our city emergency manager, Ryan Wilkinson.  We have also contracted with consultants to evaluate our district emergency response and facility security. With this information in mind, we have run through numerous drills and table top exercises to ensure that our staff know how to respond to an emergency.  To support our communication, we also have a staff wide RAVE mobile app that allows us to communicate to all staff and emergency response staff about any concerns.  It can call 911, communicate any emergency situation, and message staff about supports and help during the concern.

My child texted me that they are in a lockdown, why am I not hearing from the school?

The main reason is that we need to prioritize student safety as our first concern. Administration will be working with law enforcement and implementing the appropriate security plan to keep students safe.  After the students are secure, the next priority is to investigate and resolve the concern. Once we have the issue resolved, and we have all of the information, Skylert emails/calls will be used to communicate with the community as soon as possible.  Safety is first, but we will get that information as quickly as we can.  Also, social media communication during an emergency is often rumor based, so please check your email for skylerts, and our website for factual information.

I am worried about my child, I keep calling their cell and no one is answering!

We have been advised that during a school emergency, so many people are texting and calling that our cell phone towers cannot respond.  Repeated calls only worsen the situation, and it may be very difficult to get through or for them to call you.  Also, if they are in lockdown, the goal is to be so quiet that the students are not noticed.  If they are getting calls, that cell phone light/noise/vibration could signal that students are in the area, so it is better not to call. Have a conversation with your child about only texting if they are safe, and trying to keep the volume of calls down so that law enforcement can utilize needed phone communication.

If there is a lockdown, I am going over there and picking up my child!

As a parent, I absolutely understand that impulse, but in working with our emergency response team, by coming up to the school, it can make the situation less safe.  Traffic can impact emergency vehicles response time, and we need that to be the priority.  Also, if law enforcement have to be pulled away from the investigation to keep traffic flowing, that affects our prompt resolutions of the concern. This is really hard, but many of our staff also have students in the district, and they all are prioritizing the students in front of them, and trusting that their fellow staff are doing the same for their children. We need to help them with this as much as possible.

If it is unsafe at school, I am telling my child to get out of there, wouldn’t that be better for my child?

Again, as a parent, I can understand this as well, but this is not necessarily safe. Remember that law enforcement has more information about the situation than you will have at home, and they are making the recommendations of what we should do to keep students safe.  If there is an outside threat, you could be sending your student into an unsafe situation by telling them to leave the secure area. However, we do have protocols where we would send students outside, if that was the safer option.

I heard on Facebook that there was a serious safety threat, why are the students still in school?

The decisions made during a concern are always with the safety of students and staff as the priority.  These decisions aren’t made by one person, but with our crisis response team, which includes various safety personnel (Emergency response, Eaton County Sheriff’s dept., Charlotte Police Department, City of Charlotte staff, CPS Administration, and others as needed).  This team has the most accurate and current information on which to base these decisions, considering multiple factors for safety and security. As the situation develops, decisions are made to ensure the safest possible steps for everyone concerned. Social media can spread exaggerated or rumor based information, so please rely on the official communication from the Police Department, city or district.

What does the school do to prepare for emergencies?

CPS has been diligent about our safety plans and preparation for emergencies.  In all of the districts I have worked in, our district has the most comprehensive procedures and supports.  Annual reviews of safety plans, frequent drills, camera systems, Safety Apps for communication, full time School Recourse Officer, full door stop locks, SET SEG safety/security reviews, buzzer systems, classroom “to go” kits filled with supplies, etc.  Our community has also been supportive in this area, and the 2020 bond passage and MSP grant awards allows us more safety supports with increased outdoor lighting, secure door systems, PA systems, and cameras.

While our hope is never to have to be in a situation that would need these measures, it is better to be prepared and keep our students safe. Having conversations with your students about our responses during a security concern can help them to understand and react safely in a situation.  We thank you for your support!

Go Orioles!  Oriole Pride!

Dr. Mandy Stewart- CPS Superintendent