As Richmond County schools gear up for another year, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and local law enforcement have offered up several tips to help parents keep their children safe and ready to learn.
“Giving our children a safe and successful school year means more than buying the right pencils and backpacks,” Cooper said. “A few simple steps can give parents some peace of mind so they can focus on helping their kids learn.”
First and foremost, Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. said it is important for children to know who to notify when they are having a problem while in school.
“When it comes to school safety, schools have resource officers in place as well as the teachers themselves,” Clemmons said. “If children are having trouble at school, they should report it immediately to teachers or counselors.”
The Attorney General’s office also offers parents the following safety tips:
• Sign up to get email alerts when a registered sex offender moves near your home or your child’s school, daycare, or after-school activities. Visit the sex offender web site at www.ncdoj.gov to sign up for email alerts, and encourage your child’s school to sign up as well. You can also download the free NC Sex Offender Registry application (available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) to search for offenders by GPS location or street address from wherever you are.
• Check to make sure your child’s school has a current safety plan. Ask if they’ve put together a Critical Incident Response Kit or similar protocol, which should contain everything a school needs to respond to a crisis, like blueprints, keys, rosters and emergency plans. Cooper’s office helped distribute the kits to all North Carolina schools. Ask if teachers have been trained and what you should do as a parent if a crisis occurs at school.
• Make sure your child’s school, day care and after school activities screen their employees including background checks. Visit and get to know the people who spend time with your children.
• Consider carefully the questions a school asks about student privacy, for example, whether you’re OK with having a photo of your child on the school website or taken by a news organization. If the school doesn’t ask, inquire about its policy.
• Update your list of emergency contacts and give a current copy to your child’s school and any after-school programs. Make sure that everyone on the list knows key information, such as how to get to your child’s school, your pediatrician’s name and number, alarm codes for your house, etc.
• Ask the school to notify you if your child doesn’t arrive at school, and let the school know who is authorized to pick up your child. Make sure your children know who would pick them up in case of an emergency or if you aren’t able to.
• Make sure young children know their full name, parent’s name, address and phone number. You may also want to consider getting an ID card from the NC Division of Motor Vehicles for your child to carry.
• Be careful to protect your child’s identifying information, like Social Security numbers, from strangers. Identity thieves will use an unsuspecting child’s information to open credit lines without parents’ knowledge. Only give identifying information when necessary, and when you do, ask how it will be used and protected.
• Talk to your kids about how to stay safe from strangers, even on the Internet. Set ground rules for Internet use, agree on websites that are OK to visit and explain what is and is not appropriate to do or view online. Easy to use tools that can help, including a video and resource guide, are available free from Cooper’s office at www.ncdoj.gov.
• Consider carefully the age and maturity of your children before deciding to let them use social networking sites. If you decide to allow it, be sure to read the site’s safety tips, utilize its privacy settings, and provide extra supervision. Also, talk to teens about how problems can arise if people post inappropriate messages and embarrassing photos or respond to scams.
• Talk to your kids about mobile phone use. Many young people use phones to access the Internet. Let kids know that safety rules still apply if they use their phones to go online. Teens also need to know about the dangers of texting or talking on the phone while driving. According to the National Safety Council, drivers who use their cell phones are four times more likely to crash.
• Talk to school staff about Internet safety, too. Computers can be a wonderful learning tool, and many children now have access to the Internet in classrooms and school libraries. Ask your child’s school how they protect their students when they go online, and let them know that Internet safety tools for teachers are also available at www.ncdoj.gov.
• Encourage your children to talk to you about anything that makes them feel scared, threatened, or uncomfortable. Remind your kids not to condone or participate in bullying behavior. Teach your kids which trustworthy adults (such as grandparents, teachers, school resource officers, a neighbor you know and trust) they can also turn to when they need help.
“The other safety issue with schools is making sure parents can get their children to school in a timely fashion and not to rush,” Sheriff Clemmons said. “If you know what time you’re supposed to be there, make sure you’re there 15 minutes early. Also make sure your children go into the school and are received by teachers, if they’re younger.”
The first week of school is also a good time to practice caution on the roads, especially around school zones and in heavier traffic.
“Watch your surroundings and make sure that if you’re at bus stops waiting on your ride, don’t be horse-playing in the road because there are vehicles all around,” Clemmons said.
Every year, the Sheriff’s Office is available to direct traffic during the first week of school, especially, Clemmons said, to make sure parents who are taking their children to school can get them accommodated and understand the flow of traffic.
“You have to remember that the first week is new to kids and parents,” said Clemmons. “Parents want to see the schools; they want to see that their kids are being dropped off safely. After that, they get used to the time frame and pattern of how long it takes to get to school.
“Washington Street is a high traffic area because there are high school kids going through the back gate and regular parents bringing their kids to Washington Street, so it’s a concern and we’re there to help direct them,” he said.
The sheriff said Monday’s school traffic went pretty much as planned.
“Everything was smooth,” Clemmons said. “No anticipated problems. We’re just there to assist with traffic flow in areas like West Rockingham (Elementary) School on (Highway) 74, County Home Road, Washington Street because of the big flux of kids coming through. We just make sure the officers are there and seen.”