Conn. shooting highlights school safety protocols
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Dec 19, 2012 | 3786 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Buses leave Anniston Middle School at the end of the day Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/Anniston Star)
Buses leave Anniston Middle School at the end of the day Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/Anniston Star)
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In the wake of last week's school shootings in Connecticut, it might seem like a good idea to usher in new security protocols, but some local school administrators say it may not be effective or necessary.

It’s better to take the time to examine the incident and learn from it in order to perfect the security already in place, said both Mike Fincher, director of safety and security for the Calhoun County Schools, and Anniston City Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier.

“What we’re trying to do is look at the totality of the situations and how we can learn from it,” Fincher said. “We want to take our time and listen to the experts in this area.”

The security system in place at Calhoun County Schools is the same system the district had before the shootings, Fincher said. It includes security cameras – the school system has 1,000 cameras in place – and school resource officers on all seven campuses of the county schools, Fincher said.

Frazier echoed those sentiments.

“This is a tragic event and it’s an event that causes us in the school business to make sure we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” Frazier said.

The Anniston schools have automatically-locking outside doors with buzzers to enter. About three years ago, Frazier requested the Anniston City Council reinstitute the school resource officer program. Currently, one officer covers both the middle and high schools.

However, in response to the shootings, she did ask for patrols at the schools to be stepped up. There already is a police presence in the schools, Frazier said. It’s not uncommon for officers to just drop by the schools for a visit. Frazier said she just wanted to have those visits be more regular for a while.

Jon Paul Campbell, superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools, also requested more police presence on the campus this week to reassure parents and students.

Jacksonville also has a resource officer on its campuses every day, he said. But for the week after the shootings, Campbell thought the system should spotlight its good relationship with the city's Police Department.

“Obviously the awareness level is much higher now because of something so horrific happening,” Campbell said.

Other than that, there won’t be any changes on the campuses in response to the school shooting, he said. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes, Campbell added.

“We certainly always are looking for ways to make the schools safer and more secure,” Campbell said. “You never get to the point where you say, ‘OK, that’s all we can do.’”

The system just added a visitor badge system this school year that prints out a visitors badge including a photo and the destination of the visitor. It also recently added more surveillance cameras at Kitty Stone Elementary courtesy of a grant, Campbell said.

The school systems review their security plans each year, and send a copy to the Alabama Department of Education, Campbell said. That constant review allows them to keep security in the schools up-to-date.

Frazier and the school administrators will be reviewing the school system’s safety plans early this year to make sure the policies already in place are effective. It’s really about perfecting what is already in place, she said.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said a tragedy like Newtown can make people worry about their own children.

“We certainly have a heightened awareness right now,” he said. “But watching over the school systems is something we do every day.”

After the school shootings at Columbine, Colo., in 1999, area residents, educators, counselors, law enforcement and business people came together to talk about how to make the schools safer. They came up with Family Links, a program that tries to identify young people at risk and help them before they become a danger to society.

The program provides counseling and education to help parents deal with their children’s out of control, destructive behavior, said Lyndsey Gillam, executive director of Family Links. Since the program started in 1999, Family Links has graduated 2,100 parents of 4,000 children, Gillam said.

The Sheriff’s Office also works in partnership with the schools through the School Resource Officer program to build relationships with the students and to keep the schools safe for the students.

The officers have special training to respond to incidents in schools including shooting events, Amerson said.

Anniston police Chief Layton McGrady said he has stepped up patrols of the schools in a sense.

“They’re patrolling on the outside just like they always do,” McGrady said. “But now they’re stopping and going inside.”

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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