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Caldwell County School Board Candidates on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

CALDWELL COUNTY, NC (August 21, 2018) – We recently asked our Caldwell Journal Facebook Group members the following question…What is your number one concern about schools here in Caldwell County?  Most people were concerned about bullying in schools.  With the upcoming Caldwell County School Board elections, we thought by giving the candidates a platform to share their positions on bullying, security and sexual misconduct, it would help you make a more informed choice when voting.

We may be asking the candidates another question or two in the coming weeks on different topics too.

Be sure to look over each candidates response below…


Teresa Branch
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient?  If not, how can bullying be better addressed?

Bullying must be taken very seriously. No child should fear going to school because of the threat of bullying. These immature and mean-spirited forms of harassment can make our schools unsafe and take away from a child’s ability to learn. Current board policies that address bullying are a step in the right direction to create a safe environment for all students, but bullying in today’s world is more challenging than ever. Student socialization is often occurring online through social media and messaging apps. As technology changes, we as board members have a responsibility to stay up to date and offer new policies to deal with new problems. Until no student is being bullied, we can’t say that we’re doing enough. It’s important that we continue to teach and re-teach procedures for reporting bullying to students. Empowering a student’s fellow classmates with a sense of responsibility can be our greatest resource to stop and prevent bullying. Our educators and resource officers also deserve continued training to stay current on changing technology, policies, and laws that impact our schools and our students.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

School safety must always be our #1 priority. Providing a School Resource Officer on each campus is our goal. Six additional resource officers will begin work this month at schools around the county. Resource Officers have specialized training in juvenile law and legal issues, as well as responsibility to keep our children safe. Our School Resource Officers, in partnership with our schools, work to maintain a safe and secure environment for our children, our educators, and our communities.

How can our schools improve security?

Caldwell County Schools’ most important job, even more important than reading, writing and arithmetic, is to keep students safe. The School Board, along with educators, law enforcement, and our entire community, take this responsibility to heart.  We have procedures, policies, and drills in place that are monitored on a daily basis. Parents and community members partner hand-in-hand with schools to be the eyes and ears to work together keeping watch over our children and our schools.

To improve security, we must continue to inform and train our students, educators, and community members on procedures related to safety and security.  Facility upgrades and constantly rethinking our procedures are also vital to improving school security.  Recently, land was purchased to provide an additional exit for West Caldwell High School.  Entrance areas at Davenport, Happy Valley, South Caldwell, West Caldwell, and West Lenoir have been renovated this summer to provide additional security.

Improving school security is not a task that’s ever completed.  It’s an ongoing improvement process.  As policy and procedural changes are made, effective communication is essential to ensure that all stakeholders are informed and transitions are smooth. We must also welcome community input to make sure that we’re implementing procedures that make sense for each individual school.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?

We must have zero tolerance for misconduct against a student. Any situation where a student feels unsafe with a school employee is completely unacceptable. Early reporting and prevention is key to providing a safe environment in our schools. We also have to make sure that situations involving student safety are handled directly and transparently. As a school board member, it’s my duty to be an advocate for our children and our community, and there is no principle more important than pushing to make our schools as safe as possible.


Chris Bumgarner
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient?  If not, how can bullying be better addressed?

During my time as a School Resource Officer I was able to see, first hand, the work schools do to investigate incidents of bullying.  I felt that the administration in the school I was assigned was very thorough in their investigation and took appropriate action when such action was needed.  To prevent and/or resolve bulling related issues expeditiously, students need to know that they can report issues to trusted adults.  It is the responsibility of the school administration to look into the complaints and take corrective measures.  These issues simply cannot be overlooked.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

Unfortunately, we are living in a world where violent criminals target schools and seek to harm as many people as they can, as quickly as they can.  According to EveryTownResearch.org, there were 65 total incidents of gunfire on school campuses (K-12 and college/universities) in 2017 that resulted in serious injury or death.  Of those, 16 were on our K-12 campuses.

In my opinion, one attack is too many.  We owe it to our students and school staff to ensure that we are providing an environment that is safe for our students to learn in and safe for our teachers to teach in.  I believe that placing a School Resource Officer (SRO) on school campuses facilitates this type of environment.  Additionally, when law enforcement action is needed, you don’t have to worry about police response time (seconds count in violent attacks).

In addition to the security benefits of having an SRO on every campus, these officers are able to build positive relationships with students.  SRO’s are trained under the “triad” concept of school-based policing.  The triad concept divides the SRO’s responsibilities into three areas: Teacher, Counselor, and Law Enforcement Officer. These officers educate, counsel, and protect our school communities promoting a positive image of law enforcement to our youth.

How can our schools improve security?

As I stated previously, the most important thing we can do to improve school security is place a SRO in every school.  In addition, schools should conduct annual threat assessments on each campus and review/revise school safety plans as appropriate.  One of the most important things we can do is control access to our school buildings.  Fortunately, most of our schools have already established secure entries allowing school personnel to control and monitor who comes into the school.  Controlling building access becomes increasingly difficult in our high schools and we must be continuously looking at ways to improve on this issue.

Teachers, administrators, SRO’s, and other student support service staff need to “know” their students.  Noticeable changes in a student’s behavior should be reported to student support service staff.  This is done in an effort to ensure that students are receiving needed services before an issue exacerbates.

Finally, we have to encourage students to take responsibility for their part in maintaining safe school environments.  Students need to know that school personnel are approachable and willing to assist in any situation.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?  The teacher that was charged with sex crimes against students last year was a real shock to our community.

School staff and students alike need to adopt a “see something, say something” policy.  We owe it to our students to hold each other accountable and when something doesn’t look right, it needs to be reported.  We can’t allow our students to be subjected to sexual misconduct of any nature.  These allegations require a thorough investigation by school administration and if allegations involve a criminal element, law enforcement.  In situations where allegations are sustained appropriate actions must be taken to protect our students and the integrity of our schools.


Dottie Darsie
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient?  If not, how can bullying be better addressed?

While we have strong policies against bullying in place, the ever-changing landscape of the internet and social media makes it difficult to stay ahead of this problem. Our staff are very aware of this issue, and work with students to try and decrease these incidents among them. Our counselors are a continuing resource for teachers to keep them abreast of current problems and the best ways to handle them. We cannot let down our guard and need to make every student feel safe and supported. We are committed to ongoing training for staff to help them succeed in addressing this problem.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

Our middle and high schools now have SROs, and elementary and K-8 schools have either a full or part-time officer. We appreciate the support of the County Commissioners in helping to fund more officers in the schools, which makes them safe and secure places for our students and staff. The SROs are a great help to our administrators in dealing with conflict, and difficult/dangerously situations; but they also have developed positive, trusting relationships with students that we hope will go beyond the doors of the schools.

How can our schools improve security?

We have taken numerous steps to improve security at our schools—single entrance with a camera/buzz-in system, more background checks on volunteers, and this summer installed new entry areas in several schools. Since many of our buildings were built before security was such a concern, we are constantly evaluating the security of our buildings and the property surrounding them. We are open to suggestions from law enforcement and the public and look for ways to update our current systems.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?

We make it very clear to all staff that inappropriate behavior toward students will not be tolerated. Everyone in the school needs to be vigilant regarding student safety and feel secure in reporting behaviors which could harm children. We work with law enforcement to ensure that we are taking the right legal steps in dealing with improper behavior. Our society is becoming more aware of deviant behaviors; and we hope that reporting and addressing these behaviors will lead to a decrease in their frequency.

Our goal is for every child to feel safe and secure at school, which will lead to enhanced opportunities for learning. We value the input of our community members in making this happen.


Duane Knight
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient?

The role of a school board member is to set policy. Currently we have 24 policies that covers bullying.  The policies are in place.  Now we must ensure that each student is protected from bullying.  We can do this by building positive relationships with each student and to be the eyes and ears to report such incidents.  Our Mission Statement covers this.  “To provide quality instruction in a safe and caring environment “.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a resource officer?

Yes, that is our goal. Thanks to the County Commissioners, we now have a full-time resource officer in every county school that is not inside a city limit. Currently we have 19 officers for the 26 schools. Schools that do not have a full-time officer are Lower Creek, Davenport, Whitnel, West Lenoir, Valmead, Granite Falls Elementary, Hudson Elementary, and Horizons.  These schools share officers and are in close proximity to municipalities. Next year there will be two officers at South and West. We have state grants of over $225,000 to help cover the cost. The town of Sawmills continues to pay for their officer. The pending additional county sales tax of $.0025 will be marked for school safety and construction.

How can our schools improve security?

Safety of our students has been and will continue to be a top priority. Over the summer we have constructed entrance doors at South and West.  Only one entrance will be opened during school hours. Visitors must be visibly seen and ‘buzzed in’ to a holding area.  Visitors are no longer allowed to walk the halls, instead the student will be summoned to the office area.  Happy Valley and two other schools have similar construction in place.  Also, during school hours at South Caldwell, the Granite Falls entrance will be blocked to traffic.  Only the entrance nearest the office will be open.  This will allow staff to better monitor automobiles on campus and to eliminate thru traffic.

How can CCS better ensure that students are not subject to sexual misconduct?  The teacher that was charged with sex crimes against students last year was a real shock to the community.

The board of education has twelve policies that deal with sexual misconduct. We have zero tolerance for any adult actions that are labeled sexual misconduct.  With the national media attention on this subject, we too have made this a top priority. Each accusation will be handled quickly and appropriately by our board attorney and law enforcement.

Yes, it was a shock to the board of education also.  Any person hired by the Caldwell County Schools are subject to a background check.  We rely on outside firms to do the research.  Once hired each personnel that are in contact with our children are held to a higher standard.  The teacher in question is no longer employed by Caldwell County Schools.  Since this case has not come to trial, and is a personnel matter, I cannot legally make any further comment.


Elaine Setzer – Maxwell
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient?

I believe the current bullying policy is effective as it covers students, employees and others.  Whether it is sufficient or not, I fill I need to know the data on actual bullying cases and the results of disciplinary measures that were used to determine if the policy is sufficient for our system.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

There should most definitely be a resource officer placed at each school in our system.  If funds allow there should be more than one in the larger schools, but each school should have a trained resource officer, as the safety of the children should come before anything.

How Can Our Schools Improve Security?

Placing resource officers in our schools is a definite way to improve security but along with this action there must also be training of the school personnel as well as the children.  You want the personnel to be proactive in recognizing ways to improve safety for everyone on a daily basis.  Taking actions to ensure that the school is monitored keeping people from entering the building at random, must be practiced.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?

There should be training for all students and staff on sexual harassing conduct.  All staff must be trained to recognize signs that students may exhibit when they are being harassed and know the appropriate action to respond with.  It is imperative that we have trained counselors, and staff in the schools to deal with these situations.  This problem cannot be addressed sufficiently, without having the appropriate trained staff available.  It is the responsibility of all adults to help keep our children safe and make sure they fill comfortable and secure in an environment to learn.


Gail Ramsdell
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient? If not, how can bullying be better addressed?

Bullying has increased with the increase in availability of cell phones and computers. I think the schools have done a good job with dealing with it, but the cracking down on it requires all ears and eyes to be vigilant. That means, teachers, parents, students, volunteers and everyone to be on guard and report it immediately to the administration. The guidance counselors do their best, but they are overwhelmed with so many students to see and so many important issues to address. Now that we will have a police officer at every school that job in dealing with bullying both cyber and face-to-face can also be addressed by the SRO as well.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

SRO’s do an excellent job in not only dealing with the out of the ordinary tragedies that we see on the news so often, but they also are an invaluable extra pair of hands, eyes, and ears who can predict and often prevent trouble before it starts of the more common sorts like fights and bullying. In my time as a teacher, many SRO’s have used their negotiating skills training to keep spats from turning into violence. They are an invaluable resource in protecting our kids from outside intruders as well. Kids need to feel safe and that is an important part of what a uniformed police officer does. We have been blessed at GFMS where I taught for 10 years, to have some excellent SRO’s who really made the kids feel they had another adult on the grounds that they could trust. We also need to find the funding to add more guidance counselors to come on board to help teach the children to learn to deal with emotions in a method that won’t end in violence. We have had suicides tick up in our county in the high schools. School shootings are horrific, and we know that the barrage of news does keep our children feeling helpless and fearful. Many times, the guidance counselor can also be the preventative adult who can get the help the troubled student needs before tragedy strikes. There is no doubt that most of our older schools are not set up to keep a real invader wishing harm to get in. We also don’t have money to replace all of these older schools, but we do have and should spend money on having a group of security professionals assess and make recommendations on shoring up the entrances and exits that now are very vulnerable.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?  The teacher that was charged with sex crimes against students last year was a real shock to our community.

On the issue of sexual misconduct, that has been another problem that has hit too close to home in Caldwell County. There is an excellent secular program that was offered at my church that covers that with an in-depth program combining video and discussion that not only trains adults working with children about the horrific damage done when they are sexually abused. It also offers tips to recognize abuse and ways to make sure that as an adult working with children you can do things that keep you and the student always into in the light and open. with practical things like keeping doors open, having more than one child in the room after and before school, another adult constantly dropping by etc. These methods not only protect children they protect all adults with them being accused falsely of anything that is not abuse. The program is about three hours and is called Darkness to Light and I believe it came about as so many churches of all denominations needed to find a way to train all adults in schools and in some cases to prevent the abuse from happening. I am sure there are many programs that are just as effective, but this is the only one I know from experience. I would like to see everyone who works with public school children go through this type of program at least once every three years. Here is a link to the one I have gone through three times as required to work with children as a sample. There are others, maybe better, and maybe more reasonable, I am using this one to clarify rather than to recommend.

As you have probably figured out by now I am a big believer of the old homily, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Our kids and families are our future and we need to make sure we are all doing our best to make sure their education is of the highest level we can offer them in safety and wholeness because without those two things nothing else in their k-12 experience matters.


Joe Sims
on Bullying, Security and Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe that current bullying policies are effective and/or sufficient? If not, how can bullying be better addressed?

Caldwell County School policies effectively address bullying. These policies give clear guidelines for reporting, investigating, and addressing bullying behaviors in schools.  While I believe that these polices are effective, I also believe that it is our responsibility to continue reviewing, revising, and improving strategies.

In the past, bullying often happened face-to-face and was fairly easy to identify. Now, bullying often takes place with technology, social media, and apps. This allows bullying to happen in and out of school, and it means the schools and the school system must remain vigilant about student bullying which takes place after the school day ends. The ever-changing ways students can bully or be victims of bullying increases the importance of schools partnering with students, staff, and families to keep students safe at school and at home.

Should each school in Caldwell County have a School Resource Officer?

Our goal is for every school in Caldwell County to have at least one School Resource Officer. Some of our larger schools need more than one officer to adequately serve the student population. Having a dedicated School Resource Officer in each school is crucial in today’s environment for student safety, and it also gives students another adult in the school who is invested in their well-being and positive learning environment.

I’m very thankful that the Caldwell County Commissioners recently voted to fund six more SRO’s to meet this need. I, along with the rest of the school board, will continue to partner with law enforcement agencies to ensure that all schools are appropriately staffed with SRO’s.

How can our schools improve security?

School security is and should be a top priority.  All parents want to know they are sending their children to a school that is concerned with keeping their children safe.  We want students not only to feel safe at school – we want them to BE safe at school. Partnering with law enforcement agencies is one way to improve school safety. These agencies can provide insight to safety priorities, possible security weaknesses, and strategies for preventing a tragedy in our schools.  It is also important to train school staff to identify suspicious behavior, know warning signs, and carry out school safety plans in the event that a possible threat is detected.

Our schools and our school system are striving to continuously improve and increase safety measures. One recent example is in security changes implemented at South Caldwell and West Caldwell High Schools.  (I believe Caldwell Journal reported recently on these new security measures.)  Finally, it is important for our schools to support a culture in which students, parents, and teachers feel comfortable reporting suspicious behavior.  Our biggest assets and partners in ensuring school safety are the families we serve.

How can Caldwell County Schools better ensure that students are not subjected to sexual misconduct?  The teacher that was charged with sex crimes against students last year was a real shock to our community.

Student safety is a top priority. I want to continue to work to help all students comprehend that they are supported and that their safety matters.  I am dedicated to helping students and parents be assured that when the students have a concern or a feeling of ANY uneasiness, they can reach out to a teacher, counselor, staff member, administrator, or the School Resource Officer for help.  Our County Commissioners recently funded new School Resource Officer positions, which add to the number of adults trained to protect students and that students can connect with.

When students know they have a team of many dedicated adults, who work with each other to assure they provide for the best environment possible for the children they teach, it is my sincere hope the students will know they always have someone available at school to reach out to.  I believe if students know that the adults in their school genuinely care about their well-being and are available for students to reach out to, this kind of environment will facilitate a successful learning experience for all of our students.

Our four children were educated in Caldwell County Schools.  They had a great experience in our school system and were taught by many wonderful, professional educators.  They have good memories of their school experience and were prepared for their next steps after school.  I very much want to help provide the same for each student in this county.