How safe are Hartselle City schools? It’s a question that administrators ask themselves frequently. Safety is not only about preparing for natural disasters such as fires, severe weather and earthquakes but the impact of several school shootings in recent years also leaves educators preparing for the possibility of deadly intruders.
Hartselle City Schools already have a lockdown plan in place in case of an imminent threat on campus. Lockdown drills are practiced once a semester, and are in conjunction with Hartselle Police Department, Director of School Operations Jerry Reeves said.
Reeves met Monday, Jan. 14 with Police Chief Ron Puckett, Fire Chief Steve Shelton, Superintendent Mike Reed, Education Specialist Jim Toney, for a safety plan review meeting that was scheduled in advance, months ago. However in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., leaving 20 students and 6 faculty members dead, educators, law enforcement and emergency personnel were asking if they needed to do more to protect Hartselle’s children.
“Unfortunately, this day and time, what happened at Sandy Hook is possible,” Superintendent Reed said in an interview Wednesday, Jan. 16. “At the very least we need to let our people and our employees make sure the students under their watch-care are safe.”
Reed said that in the 45 years he has been in education he has seen violent incidents at schools in the U.S. increase.
“We definitely are having more incidents not only in schools but society in general, movie theatres, shopping malls, resort areas – at the same time I think it’s covered quicker and with response times with social media it has become faster,” he said.
However, in the 8 years Reed has been at Hartselle City Schools there has only been one time, more than five years ago, that a student made a threat towards a former Hartselle student and the school went on semi-lock down. The individual made the threat over the internet, he said.
Federal law requires expulsion for students who bring guns to school, while other situations involving violence, weapons or drugs are looked at by the school board and principals on a case-by-case basis, Reed said.
Considering a new drill
After the safety plan review meeting, Director of School Operations Reeves, along with Eddie Hicks, the Executive Director of the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency, presented the Hartselle City School Board with the proposal of having a “live action shooter” drill at one of the elementary schools.
The live action shooter drill, part of the Homeland Security exercise program, would be similar to the lockdown drills already in place with the exception of including law enforcement agencies and emergency workers onsite, with fake weapons. The drill is being discussed by a committee to determine to what extent, when and how to implement it. The Safety Plan Committee includes administrators, teachers, parents, police officers, fire fighters, and EMA representatives.
The live action shooter drill would better prepare authorities to have an “effortless plan so that everyone would be on the same page,” Reeves said.
If brought to the board for a vote at the next school board meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, the drill was suggested to take place in late February at F.E. Burleson Elementary, Hicks told board members.
The community would be well aware the drill is to take place, and aware that it is only a drill. The exercise would take about three hours and parents would have the option of checking their child out of school prior to the drill, if they did not want their child to participate, Reeves said.
There could be many scenarios and training built into or left out of the drill. If a live action shooter drill is recommended by the committee and approved by the board, it would be the first held in Morgan County to involve students, Hicks said.
The drill would give an evaluation of how the school system can improve but also give responders “all a chance to see how they would deal in such a situation,” Superintendent Reed said.
The board voted unanimously to allow a committee, headed by Reeves, to research and plan a drill that would suit Hartselle’s needs. Superintendent Reed also sent out a letter to F.E. Burleson Elementary students’ parents Wednesday, Jan. 16 explaining the Safety Plan Committee and possible drill.
“The board has not made a final decision on any drill nor had the board set a time or school location for any drill. Again, the purpose of this committee is to examine all possible scenarios in order to create the safest possible environment in our schools. We will keep the community, parents and staff informed as progress is made on this safety study. No drill will be conducted without thorough public notification,” Superintendent Reed wrote in the letter.
The entire letter can be found at www.hartselletigers.org.
Further safety measures
Reeves also spoke to the school board members about three other school safety measures being talked about by state legislators. He said suggested ideas by senate members included armed School Resource Officers in each school, increased funding for mental health for intervention with at-risk students before problems arise, and having an armed teacher and armed principal in each school.
The Hartselle City School system currently has two SRO officers who are armed police officers, one each at the junior high and high school. The SROs are highly visible and visit the elementary schools often, Superintendent Reed said.
He said he has mixed feelings about having armed teachers and principals.
“If it becomes a law of course we’ll comply, but personally, I don’t think we got into this business to carry a firearm…because of the love of our children we need to look at all options,” Superintendent Reed said.
State Education Specialist Jim Toney talked to the group at the safety planning meeting about the system’s implementation of the Incident Command System. ICS is a federally mandated school safety plan developed by Homeland Security that is part of the National Incident Management System. All schools are required to have their school safety plans structured with ICS before July 2013, Reeves said.
Part of ICS is the Virtual Alabama School Safety System, “a digital information sharing program that provides first responders with the critical information they need when responding to a natural or man-made disaster on one of Alabama’s campuses.”
A part of Virtual Alabama will be floor plans and details about all 1,700 schools in the state, including layered geographical layout of the school sites and building plans. The plans will include locations of fire alarm switches, gas and water cut off valves, and can include details down to the classrooms’s teacher and students names per class period. The Virtual Alabama systems would only be accessible by certain school authorities and emergency personnel, Reeves said.
The safety committee also talked about the possibility of updating security systems at each school, including a buzz-in type entrance system and different locks on classroom doors, Reeves said.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|