Reporter enters Searcy High School without authorization to “test” security

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Criminal trespass placed on newspaper reporter following the incident

School claims the newspaper first asked and was then denied access

SEARCY, Ark. – In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting and with threats also having been made in White County, The Daily Citizen, a newspaper in Searcy, sent two reporters into schools without authorization in what the editor called a “test.”

But before the “test” results could be published in Friday’s paper, the school made a statement causing much anger with the paper. It said a reporter initially asked permission to enter campus buildings without following visitor protocols and was denied earlier in the week. She was then stopped about two minutes after entering the high school on Wednesday. The school placed a criminal trespass on the reporter, making it punishable by arrest if she returns. No mention of a second reporter was included in the school’s statement.

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The school first alerted the public to the incident on Wednesday in a statement released by Community Coordinator Betsy Bailey with Searcy School District. The statement read, in part, as follows:

“In an email, the reporter asked district officials to agree to allow her and/or other reporters to enter campus buildings without following visitor protocol in an effort to deceive district employees and find out how staff members would handle an intruder. The district responded that we would not grant that access.  Searcy School District is not interested in an undercover operation for the benefit of a news story as the safety and education of our students and employees are our only concerns.”

The statement from the school goes on to say that, “nonetheless,” the same reporter entered the high school on Wednesday without checking in at the office. The statement says she entered during classroom instruction time and all rooms were locked and safely secured. It says she was stopped by a teacher and a criminal trespass was placed on said reporter.

“We will do the same for anyone who chooses to enter our campuses without following proper procedure,” said Bailey’s statement.

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A statement from the newspaper editor, Steve Watts, was posted shortly after noon on Thursday. It indicates the paper decided to enter the schools without informing the district. No mention is included of asking for and not getting permission prior. It says the decision was not reached lightly.

The school’s statement also said the same reporter who was stopped by teachers requested daily safety measures utilized for an article. The school provided these three measures:

  1.  All visitors must check into the front offices of each campus. At Searcy High School, we have offices on both the east and west side of campus. Searcy School District utilizes the Hall Pass School Visitor Management System to check visitors in and out of the campus.
  2. All teacher classrooms are locked from the inside at all times.
  3. Security cameras are in place in the hallways and outside areas at each campus.

The school said it intentionally withheld some information it felt could be detrimental to the safety and security of students and staff members.

On the Daily Citizen’s own Facebook page, most posts seemed to grill the newspaper and side with the school.

The paper plans to publish its results on Friday.

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