The new year is only in its first month, and there have already been five shootings at school campuses across the country.
The Troup County School System strives to make sure all schools are safe and secure to prevent these events from happening by following school safety protocols.
“We continue to focus on our current plan,” said John Radcliffe, assistant superintendent for operations for the TCSS. “We have a security plan at each school site and we continue to focus on that.”
Each school has a different safety plan, based upon the setup of the school, but all schools are given a universal safety book that tells what to do in emergency situations, such as severe weather and intruders. Radcliffe stated that the books are standardized to help substitutes to not have to learn different practices for different schools where they may be teaching.
In reference to school shootings, Radcliffe said he has given Troup County schools the next couple of weeks to conduct lock down drills, and as of early last week, Hogansville Elementary conducted the lock down and invited the Hogansville Police Department to witness.
“The recent event at Sandy Hook Elementary was a stark reminder that we live in a dangerous world,” said Hogansville Elementary principal Bret Bryant. “We conducted a lock down drill so that our students and staff would know how to respond in a real emergency. Hopefully, this is one drill we will never have to act on.”
The schools have monthly fire drills and a yearly severe weather drill, but no standard schedule for other drills, according to Radcliffe, though he mentioned a quarterly intruder lock down drill would be wise due to recent events.
High schools have school resource officers — SROs — but due to budgetary constraints, SROs are not the most affordable security options for schools.
“We are looking at every possible opportunity, but the question that comes into play is how much benefit each SRO would be or police officers would be as a deterrent,” Radcliffe said. He explained that on a large campus, if a SRO or police officer is at the far back of the campus and an incident takes place like in the Sandy Hook shooting, it would not be much of a benefit if there was no officer at other ends of the school campus. “We’re trying to coach that against all the different measures we may look at as far as security for school.”
If the budget allowed, Radcliffe said that having more police in schools would be a consideration for a safe and secure school environment, but it is not the answer to all questions, which, he said, most people believe. The schools have been looking at other preventative measures such as more secured sites, where access and entry into the school is only available through a single door.
“We’re looking at all those things in conjunction with additional police, not just a singular solution because there’s not a singular solution,” Radcliffe said.
He again referenced last month’s Newtown, Conn., shooting and how the media commented that the teachers knew what to do.
“The teachers need to know what to do and be able to act quickly,” Radcliffe said. “Lock the classrooms if they’re not already locked. We encourage the teachers to lock the classrooms on a regular basis and keep the doors locked. There’s no need for them to really be open.”
High schools, however, find it more difficult to keep doors locked due to students having to switch classes in different buildings.
The TCSS also encourages schools to do random searches based on the principal’s and staff’s judgement and indicators and feel of the school. Aside from searches, he said that the they are fortunate to have students in the school who are not afraid to tell an adult that there is a problem or someone may have a weapon or someone may have plans to create problems. The communication between students and school staff is key in keeping the schools safe and aware.
The school system also appreciates their partnerships with local law enforcement and their presence on campus.
“The school system develops their plans and the law enforcement and schools work together great. They have great lock down plans,” said Stewart Smith, public information officer for the Troup County Sheriff’s Office. In the past couple of weeks, deputies have been doing frequent school checks during their normal patrols where, deputies walk the inside and outside of the schools throughout the day.
Deputies plan on having a lot more training to handle incidents of school intruders. They, along with the LaGrange Police Department, are taught to respond immediately to an armed school intruder.
LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar said that since the Columbine shooting, they have incorporated an annual protocol training to handle intruder situations.
“We’ve been very involved with school leadership since Columbine,” Dekmar said. “We are always looking for ways to enhance school security and our active shooters training prepares us for these situations.”
Radcliffe said in upcoming administrator meetings that school officials are working with Georgia Emergency Management Agency and other outside sources to provide additional training to school staff. Then, depending on how well that it is received by principals, whether they want to bring it to the school level, which will most likely happen.
Smith commented that school programs that partnered with law enforcement should be brought into schools to keep students in contact with law enforcement. He hopes that the Junior Deputy Program, a third grade program, will be in all schools next August and he would would like to see the D.A.R.E program, which is only in the city’s schools, brought to county schools as well.