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Security measures stepped up / March 14, 2018

In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Bluestone student Evan Ashad Smith, school officials and law enforcement agencies have stepped up security measures in Mecklenburg County schools.

In a message posted on the school division website and Facebook page, parents and students were informed this week that police officers will have “an increased presence at our schools. School safety and security takes a collaborative effort; therefore, we are asking parents, students and community members to contact school administration to report anything that may be considered concerning.”

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols said Monday that the message was prompted by a “series of events in Mecklenburg County that have been connected to violence” — including the fatal shooting of Smith, a Bluestone senior, early Sunday.

“Some issues happened over the weekend that were very close to home, and we felt it would be very pertinent to talk to police about additional security,” said Nichols.

Although Nichols declined to go into specifics on potential threats to the schools, he acknowledged that the victim in the Chase City shooting “had been a student of ours until very recently and I think there’s some question or suspicion that that [the shooting] was gang-related.”

He said there have been no direct threats to schools, although Nichols acknowledged that “speculation on social media” has “raised concerns of what impact it might cause.

“We’re always looking to be cautious and safe — to err on the side of safety,” he said. “There are hints that we need to be cautious.”

While school was cancelled on Monday and Tuesday due to the late season snowfall that dusted Mecklenburg County, the community should know that the school system and local police are taking extra precautions to make sure no threats materialize in the wake of the shooting.

“Thankfully, we have full support of our local and State Police that are supportive of us and work with us in protecting our children,” said Nichols.

All four secondary schools — Bluestone and Park View middle and high schools — are staffed with school resources officers through the Sheriff’s Office, while town police departments in Chase City, Clarksville, La Crosse and South Hill make regular security checks at the county’s elementary schools.

“We have old buildings,” added Nichols of the situation with school security. “And we’re doing everything we can in those old buildings, but nothing beats professionals with their eyes on the situation and administrators and teachers who are watching and listening, and people in the community who are willing to make us aware of anything out the ordinary. We’re talking advantage of all three of those.”

Asked how long the increased police presence would last at local schools, Nichols replied, “We really don’t know at this point.”

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