Shootings prompt school safety meeting

Published 12:03 am Saturday, December 15, 2012

Like most people in America, when Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson heard about the deaths of 27 people, including 20 school children, in a Connecticut rampage, he was stunned.

On Friday, a gunman opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., where his mother worked as a teacher. The mother was found dead at her home, and 26 people, including 20 children, died at the school as a result of his rampage. The gunman later killed himself.

Johnson has two granddaughters in elementary school in Tuscaloosa. But he also felt a responsibility for all of the hundreds of students in Andalusia, a responsibility to ensure that each of them is as safe as possible.

So on Monday, he will convene a meeting of local law enforcement and safety officers, as well as the school superintendent, each of the principals, and the school board president.

“We are going to review the security situation in all three schools, and discuss whether we need to do more,” Johnson said. “We need to look at what we’re enforcing, in terms of our existing policies. And we need to establish what is the maximum level of security we could provide at school and decide how far we could back away from that?”

Johnson said he wants to analyze the risks involved with every step taken back from the maximum security that could be provided.

“In view of what happened in Newton, Conn., and recently at other locations around the country in schools and other venues, we can’t rely on, ‘We’re a small community and it can’t happen here.’

“How soon we forget what happened in Samson three years ago,” Johnson said. “That very easily could have involved schools.”

In March of 2009, 11 people died in what was described as the worst mass killing in Alabama history. A lone gunman, Michael McClendon, killed his mother in the edge of Coffee County, then traveled to Samson and Geneva, taking the lives of nine others – including several family members – before shooting himself.

While Monday’s meeting is not open to the public, Johnson said he expects there might be public meetings on the topic of school safety in the near future.

Actions like those planned in Andalusia are being taken across the nation. State superintendent Tommy Bice said Alabama’s Department of Education will immediately review school safety plans.