Parents question security at Meadows Elementary

February 9, 2019
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Parents listen to the speakers during a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting Thursday at Meadows Elementary School in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Concerned teachers and parents of Meadows Elementary School students presented a petition to Cabell County Schools officials at a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting Thursday evening concerning school safety procedures following a lockdown situation that occurred Jan. 16.

The discussion of the incident at the meeting brought to light a series of issues the school has endured over time as those in attendance voiced their concerns to Cabell County Schools officials Assistant Superintendent Tim Hardesty, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Kim Cooper and Safety Manager Tim Stewart.

A man who was being pursued by police entered the school around 12:45 p.m. Jan. 16 in order to evade capture. According to an eyewitness account from parent Andrea Gardner that was presented at the meeting by PTO members, the man was buzzed into the building by a secretary without being asked for identification or to state his business, and he falsely identified himself as picking up a student. The name he provided did not match any student who attended the school, and the secretary proceeded to list the names of students that were similar to the one he provided.

The man was asked to leave, and Gardner, who was sitting in the school’s office to pick up her child,

saw the man attempting to enter the school through other doors.

Twenty minutes later, an announcement was made by Principal Connie Mize to faculty that the school was on a “practice” lockdown drill. Teachers at the meeting said they had never heard an announcement of that nature and that many of them were uncertain as to what they should be doing.

Meadows Elementary School parents received alerts from Cabell County Schools Communications Director Jedd Flowers that the school had been placed on lockdown that day, clarifying that the lockdown was indeed real and that there had been police activity in the area.

The way the situation was handled prompted concern, which led to the drafting of the petition that was presented Thursday. The petition states that, following these events, the Cabell County Board of Education appears to have “at least temporarily” replaced Mize as principal of the school.

The petition states that those who had signed it had no confidence in the ability of Mize’s leadership and called for the BOE to formulate a plan to improve safety at Meadows Elementary. As of Thursday, the petition had 109 signatures from parents representing 45 percent of the school’s students. Not illustrated were Meadows Elementary teachers and five families who submitted statements that they had moved away from Meadows Elementary School as a direct result of Mize’s leadership.

Mary Campbell has stepped in as acting principal and has served in the position for approximately two weeks. Parents at the meeting said they have noticed a significant change in how the school is running since Campbell took the position.

Hardesty would not discuss whether Mize had been suspended or reassigned, exercising the district’s common practice of withholding comment on active personnel matters.

Like the other older elementary schools in the county, Meadows is one of the few schools that does not have a double-door “man-trap” at the main entrance. It does use the remotely unlocked video doorbell installed at each school’s entrances. Hardesty said Cabell County Schools has been looking into installing the man-trap doors at every school in the county but could not provide a timeline to the completion of those projects.

Parents at the meeting called for Cabell County Schools officials to examine school safety policies, which are largely, according to Stewart, individualized to each school. Once it was made clear there was a lack of consistency in how these safety standards, which are supposed to be the same statewide, are carried out, Stewart said he would stop by Meadows in the next few days to go over them with staff.

Campbell said she has been examining the front-door procedures at the school and making sure they are more closely followed. Many parents corroborated that it appeared steps had been taken and they were asked to follow protocol more closely when they needed to get into the school.

The PTO plans to attend the Feb. 19 Cabell County Board of Education meeting to discuss school safety and their concerns with school personnel.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.

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