Currituck Schools Safe With Nightlock Lockdown Devices
Generations of students have memorialized their high school years with parting gifts, leaving a legacy of everything from ill-conceived pranks to heartfelt contributions for the betterment of their school.
Little did one Currituck County High School senior realize that her quest to keep students safe would make such a sudden and significant lasting impression: the installation of “Jenna Locks” on all the doors of Currituck County Schools classrooms and offices.
“I just knew I wanted to do something that would benefit every student and the teachers and staff at every school, and this was the perfect solution,” Jenna Akers explains. “I’ve had a lot of past teachers and administrators reach out to me saying that it’s so great for someone to take the initiative. It just takes one person to take the initiative to implement something like this.”
It should come as no surprise in today’s news cycle that Akers spent time thinking about school shootings and school safety procedures during her high school days. What did prove surprising to the 2018 CCHS graduate was that before she headed to Chapel Hill for her freshman year of college, Nightlock Lockdown door barricade devices had been discussed, approved, funded and installed in all 10 Currituck County Schools.
Another surprise, of course, came when Akers learned what many of the teachers at her old high school are calling the Nightlock Lockdown devices.
“A lot of the teachers go by ‘Jenna Locks,’ ” she says with a laugh.
Here’s hoping the folks at Nightlock don’t hear about that fun fact. The Michigan company devised the Nightlock system as a simple yet highly effective tool to keep people safe behind an impenetrable door. For about $50 per device, consumers get a door plate, floor plate and locking handle that combine to keep a door closed in the face of blunt force.
In videos produced by Nightlock, repeated attempts at breaking through a door by kicking it, running into it and even using tools fail time and again. That video impressed CCHS Assistant Principal Phil Walls when he did his research. (See the video for yourself at youtube.com/watch?v=taOFk38iEHM)
“I’ve never heard of a school shooting yet where anybody comes in with a sledgehammer,” Walls says. “The only point of it is to slow the school shooter down and give the police more time to respond.”
Walls has spent 25 years in education and has been a principal and assistant principal in his 12 years in Currituck. He represents the high school on the county’s school safety committee. Akers, meanwhile, spent her junior and senior year as a Board of Education junior member.
Attending all those BOE meetings got Akers thinking about ways to help the school system. She and her dad – a Currituck County sheriff’s deputy – started talking about school safety plans. Then came the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“It was slow moving at first and then we knew we had to get the ball rolling faster,” Akers recalls. “I just knew there was a lot of pressure from the parents as well, to implement something that could help our school system.”
Akers met with Currituck County Sheriff Matthew Beickert to get his advice, researched a variety of products on the market, then prepared and delivered a presentation to the school board.
There were plenty of questions, of course, including on how to pay for something needed for countless classroom and office doors at 10 schools. There were thoughts of doing fundraisers, or even asking parents to consider sponsoring a door, but in the end, the Board of Education and Currituck County Commissioners found a way to pay for the devices, and they were installed before students arrived for the 2018-19 school year.
“I’m honestly proud of my school system for having it ready to go so quickly, and how the commissioners and Board of Education were able to come up with the funding so quickly as well,” Akers says. “I’m very proud and thankful for all the support I got. I couldn’t have done it myself. I had to take the initiative and allow others to help me out.”
Walls has a slightly different take on Akers’ humility about her role in all of this: “It was Jenna’s baby and she ran with it.”
When teachers arrived for the new school year, they were greeted with a demonstration lasting about 10 minutes on how the devices worked. One of the biggest fears, Walls explains, was that students might play with the device or take the locking handle, but that concern proved unfounded.
“The kids were like, ‘Whatever, there’s something new hanging on the wall, move on,’ ” he says. “The staff was very receptive and happy to have another line of defense.”
Akers is now back home for a summer of work before returning to Chapel Hill to continue her studies. She’s majoring in Peace, War and Defense as well as Arabic, with plans to enter government service in the intelligence field. The 19-year-old says being safe at school is “constantly in the back of your mind,” with those thoughts bubbling to the surface with news of shootings at UNC Charlotte, and a high school not far from Columbine – where it all started for American society in 1999.
“In high school, middle school, and elementary school, you run lockdown drills, but when you’re on a campus with 20,000 people you’re not,” Akers says. “It would be interesting to see if it would ever become a reality (on college campuses).”
She also hopes officials in other school systems consider taking similar steps.
“I really wish I could implement it other places, allow other counties like Dare County and Camden County to take note of it and start having discussions about it with their own board of education,” she says.
Keith Parker, the digital communications and middle school director for Dare County Schools, says safety is a frequent topic for officials in every building, especially with a new superintendent – Dr. John Farrelly – spending the last 18 months talking with students, staff, parents and community stakeholders as part of his visioning process.
While the topic of school safety came up everywhere, most people feel safe on DCS campuses. What makes Dare different? Parker credits a combination of school resource officers in every building, locked campuses that require visitors to be buzzed in from the main office, software that looks for threats on social media, and counselors reaching out to troubled students before they become a threat to themselves or others.
“Naturally, parents want to know we’re doing everything in our power to be as proactive as possible. They also realize we’re very fortunate in this county that we have very safe campuses,” Parker says. “I can’t speak enough about the partnership with local law enforcement and how we’re able, with funding from county commissioners and local municipalities, to put a school resource officer in every school.”
And it’s more than just having officers in the schools. In April, while students were away for spring break, the Dare County Sheriff’s Department held a simulation on responding to an active shooter at First Flight Middle School.
“Local law enforcement takes this conversation very seriously, and that gives us and the public some reassurance,” Parker says. “We have explored a lot of options and are constantly doing that because the conversation continues to evolve around this topic and we have to keep ourselves educated on what’s happening.”
The evolution continues in Currituck as well, which has expanded its pool of school resource officers to every middle school and high school plus J.P. Knapp Early College, but does not yet include the elementary schools. For his part, Walls considers money spent on officers and the Nightlock Lockdown devices to be a good investment.
“We decided that it was worth it to try to keep our kids and our staff safe,” he says. “Personally, I hope they hang there and collect a lot of dust for a lot of years. The last thing I want to do is use one.”♦
Steve Hanf worked as a sportswriter for 13 years in North Carolina before finding a fun second career in the classroom. He currently advises the newspaper and yearbook programs at First Flight High School and loves his new life on the OBX.