Safety reviewed in wake of shootingsPublished 12:02am Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Andalusia Superintendent Ted Watson said he spent most of the day Monday talking to parents in the wake of Friday’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six adults dead.
“Mostly, parents wanted to be reassured,” he said Monday night. “All I can tell them is that we are readdressing our procedures.”
It was a subject on the minds of many Monday. On Monday afternoon, Mayor Earl Johnson convened a meeting of city, law enforcement and education leaders to discuss how to make local schools safer. Similar meetings were held by the Opp and Covington County school systems.
As the group reviews safety procedures in place and possible additional steps, they agreed they want to make the schools as safe as possible without turning them into bunkers or fortresses.
“What happened in Connecticut is unfathomable to try to deal with from a standpoint of figuring out why it happens,” Johnson said. “We owe a duty to our children, to the community, parents, and grandparents, to make our schools as safe as we can make within reason.”
The mayor said asked the group to determine the highest level of security possible to attain without worrying about cost.
“If I have to go to this community and say, ‘This is what we need. Are we as a community willing to pay for that,’ ” he said. “How can you say ‘no’ to that?”
Those present discussed the possibility of running drills of how to react in a shooting. But administrators were concerned that a full drill in an upper-level school could provide information about potential weaknesses to the wrong people, and that a full mock event at the elementary level would terrify students.
In the past, Chief Wilbur Williams said, local law enforcement has worked with AHS and AMS to set up safety plans. Before Friday, the likelihood of an event in the elementary school was unimaginable. Monday morning, Lt. Dean was on the AES campus doing a security assessment.
Dean and AES principal Patty Taylor said they found several small things that could be addressed inexpensively and potentially make a big difference.
Williams said he believes “We need to tweak our mindset a little bit. My idea and a police officer’s definition of security is different from an educators. But 26 people were killed in a matter of three minutes.”
Confrontation matters, he said. While the mindset for an officer once was “Set a perimeter and go no further,” evidence shows that in shootings like the one Friday, the shooters are trying to avoid confrontation.
“The are looking for easy prey,” Williams said. “We can do things a little differently, but accomplish a great deal with security systems in the building, and locked doors.”
Others in attendance included AHS principal Daniel Shakespeare and assistant principal Bennie Shellhouse, AMS principal Victoria Anderson; David McCalman and Bill King from the city board of education; APD officers Mike Bowlan and Paul Hudson; and Fire Chief Ethan Dorsey.
A subcommittee was appointed to review safety plans at all schools with a report to be presented to the larger group by the end of January.
School officials said their safety plans stipulate that if any event – a storm, fire, or violence – required the evacuation of students, buses would be used to move students away from the schools. AES and AHS students would be moved to the Kiwanis Center, while AMS students would be moved to the Coleman Center. Parents would not be allowed on the school grounds, but would pick up children from the evacuation centers.
Opp City Schools superintendent Michael Smithart said he met with Opp first responders and Mayor John Bartholomew this morning to discuss any changes that need to be made.
“Right now, we are evaluating our safety plans and emergency procedures to see if we need to make any change,” Smithart said. “We don’t have additional security on campus, but OPD has increased their patrols.”
Covington County school superintendent Terry Holley said Monday a meeting was held with all county school principals to discuss school safety.
“We want to be proactive when it comes to school safety,” Holley said. “(Monday’s meeting) allowed us to see what we have in place and where we need to work.”
Holley said a specific safety plan has been devised for every school in the system and that “the basics” were discussed in detail at the meeting.
“We talked about things like making sure the intercoms and PA systems work, that cameras are working properly, that locks on the doors are operational and installed where needed,” he said. “Now, principals will go back and address those issues. (Friday’s shooting) is a constant reminder that safety comes first for our students.”
That’s precisely why school resource officers were installed at county school sites, Sheriff Dennis Meeks said.
Currently, there is a deputy stationed at the Straughn, Pleasant Home and Red Level campuses. One deputy splits his time between Florala High School and W.S. Harlan, while Opp Police officers and county deputies “fill in the blank” at Fleeta Jr. High School.
In the wake of the shooting, Meeks said he doesn’t foresee any changes to the way school resource officers operate on local campuses.
“Protection is the whole reason they are there,” Meeks said of the officers. “Those were placed right after (the mass shooting at a school) in Columbine. They’re not there just for the kids to get to know them as a law enforcement officer. They’re there for school protection.”
Stephanie Nelson and Kendra Bolling contributed to this report.