System’s safety procedures in place
By Stephanie Johns
Last Friday a gunman killed 20 students as well as six teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Dr. Ralph Bennett, superintendent of Morgan County Charter School System, said via e-mail that “our School Resource Officers (SROs) were making even more of a presence in each of the schools than ever before.”
He added that “our administrators, teachers and staff were helping our students to continue to feel safe and secure at school.”
In the wake of that tragedy, parents visited local schools asking about safety procedures, according to Sarah Burbach, assistant superintendent for Student Support and Community Relations with the system.
She noted that state law has a zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons on school campuses. “Zero tolerance,” she said, means neither students nor faculty and staff may have weapons on school grounds. She added that “weapons” include firearms, knives and anything else that can be construed as a weapon.
Students at CrossRoads are checked daily with a wand as a precautionary measure, she said. Also, they have to empty their pockets and bookbags.
Burbach said that all of the schools in the system have safety plans reviewed on a consistent basis.
In fact, their more recent review occurred last Wednesday during a principals’ meeting. The recent carbon monoxide scare in Atlanta schools prompted that review.
“Each principal went over their safety plans and were told to review them with faculty and staff,” she said.
One advantage to the discussion: each principal was able to hear – and learn from – the other principals and their plans.
Burbach added that the schools practice lockdown, tornado, and fire drills.
She added that SROs walk through the buildings with principals and tweak “what ifs” such as: what if a student is in the bathroom or at the library when a lockdown occurs?
“They walk through real situations,” she said. “Our safety plans are unique to each school.”
Each classroom in the schools has a Ziplock bag taped to the back of the door with safety precautions and green, yellow, and red cards in it. During a lockdown a teacher will slip one of the colored cards under the classroom door.
The green indicates all students are accounted for.
The yellow indicates not all students are in the classroom but the teacher knows where they are. On this card the teacher would write the names of the students and where they are (bathroom, library, etc.).
The red card means those in the class need help. An officer would see the red card and go to that classroom first.
She noted that people from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) have walked through the schools room by room and determined the safest places for people to go to in an emergency.
Bob Monk, Director of Operations for the school system, said that they get their safety guidelines from GEMA.
“GEMA plays a key role in giving us safety rules,” he said, adding that Friday’s events are “a tragedy for our country.”
Cpl. Brad Vaughn, an SRO with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, said the shooting in Connecticut was “devastating” and offered his reassurances concerning the local school system.
“The school system here does a good job of protecting our kids,” he said.
He explained that the schools regularly practice lock-down mode.
“This is one of our biggest tools,” he said. “The best way we can prepare ourselves is to practice.”
Lockdown Level One indicates that there is some sort of suspicious activity on school grounds.
“Teaching stays the same but teachers lock their doors and keep their students in class,” he said.
Lockdown Level Three indicates that there is a life-threatening situation on campus.
“They lock the doors to all the entrances, cut off the lights, and hide the kids,” he said, adding that hiding the kids is more of a deterrent. “We hope they’ll see the room is dark and move on.”
The Sheriff’s Office regularly participates in an active shooter class, he said. He noted that this practice takes place during school breaks.
“We will use the actual school buildings and go class to class,” he said. “We try to prepare ourselves for it.”
Vaughn said that in his four terms at the schools they have had “very few” weapons.
“The worst thing I’ve ever seen is a pocket knife,” he said.
He noted that students participating in sporting events that use guns, such as the 4-H shooting club, tell the SRO about the weapon and have the SRO secure it.
Vaughn is one of three SROs in the local school system. He and Deputy Dave Lord are responsible for the primary, elementary, and high schools. Deputy Jim Hickey is responsible for the middle and CrossRoads schools.
Vaughn said that SROs are responsible for handling any calls involving law enforcement needs at the schools.
From an unruly student who needs to be taken from school grounds, to any kind of narcotics, to attending tribunals. He explained that tribunals are like courts for the students who are in danger of being expelled, for example. SROs also work with the mentoring programs at the schools.
“We also work with students and talk to them about outside-of-school issues,” he said. “We’re like informal counselors.”
Dave Belton, who represents District 5 on the Morgan County School Board, shared via e-mail that the Board of Education mourns for the victims.
“According to all reports, the principal and teachers spent their last dying breaths to shield and protect their children,” he wrote. “I want you to know that we have thoroughly reviewed and practiced (once again) our procedures for such an occurrence.”
He added that the SROs are “highly trained for such an eventuality” and that Georgia State Patrol troopers “regularly patrol our schools per the Governor’s longstanding orders.”
He finished by writing, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”
Printed in the December 20, 2012 edition