MARSHALL - In response to the Texas school shooting that left 19 children dead May 24, the local school system and Sheriff's Office are rolling out some beefed up security measures in 2022-23, including putting AR-15 rifles in every school.
Madison County Schools and Madison County Sheriff's Office are collaborating to enhance security in the schools for the upcoming school year after the Uvalde, Texas, tragedy revealed systemic failures and poor decision-making, with responding police disregarding active-shooter trainings, according to a report from the Texas state house.
"Those officers were in that building for so long, and that suspect was able to infiltrate that building and injure and kill so many kids," Sheriff Buddy Harwood said. "I just want to make sure my deputies are prepared in the event that happens."
Madison County Schools Superintendent Will Hoffman said MCS administration has been meeting regularly with local law enforcement officials, including Harwood, to discuss the updated safety measures.
On July 26, he met with school officials and the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to assure that law enforcement can monitor school camera systems.
On July 28, administration met with the school attorney to get briefed on Title IX - sexual harassment and discrimination - as well as enhanced supervision and other safety procedures.
According to Harwood, the county's school resource officers have been training with instructors from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
AR-15 rifles, safes and breaching tools in the schools
"We were able to put an AR-15 rifle and safe in all of our schools in the county," Harwood said. "We've also got breaching tools to go into those safes. We've got extra magazines with ammo in those safes."
There are six schools in the Madison County system: Brush Creek Elementary, Hot Springs Elementary, Mars Hill Elementary, Madison Middle, Madison High and Madison Early College High.
"The reason we put the breaching tools in the safes is that in the event we have someone barricaded in a door, we won't have to wait on the fire department to get there," Harwood said. "We'll have those tools to be able to breach that door if needed. I do not want to have to run back out to the car to grab an AR, because that's time lost. Hopefully we'll never need it, but I want my guys to be as prepared as prepared can be."
Harwood said he feels while the optics of the SROs potentially handling AR-15s in schools may be discomforting to some, it is a necessary response given the state of the country.
"I'm a firearms instructor. We carry a (9 mm) 135-grain bullet," Harwood said. "We've got the maximum 50 rounds that my SROs are carrying throughout the school to protect that school.
"I hate that we've come to a place in our nation where I've got to put a safe in our schools, and lock that safe up for my deputies to be able to acquire an AR-15. But, we can shut it off and say it won't happen in Madison County, but we never know. I want the parents of Madison County to know we're going to take every measure necessary to ensure our kids are safe in this school system. If my parents, as a whole, want me to stand at that door with that AR strapped around that officer's neck, then I'm going to do whatever my parents want as a whole to keep our kids safe."
Harwood said his staff have met with SBI officials, as well as Kevin West, Mars Hill University's director of safety and security, as well as other local law enforcement officials and first responders to conduct training throughout the summer.
On Aug. 17, the school system and Sheriff's Office will conduct a live scenario to replicate a high-impact incident requiring emergency response.
"The scenario will incorporate all of our teachers, just to prepare them what to look for in the event we have to come into a school," Harwood said. "We've got helicopters that will be there. It will be a live situation. We'll do the classroom portion of it in the morning."
According to Harwood, his staff have participated in two training sessions for the upcoming live scenario.
"I've got a whole host of people that are very capable of putting this training on," Harwood said. "It is sponsored through A-B Tech, so my guys will get training hours for it, including the fire departments."
According to Hoffman, the school system is conducting a number of other safety initiatives in 2022-23.
There will be SROs at each school, and the school system will also have a school safety liaison. School social workers and school counselors will be assigned to each school, also.
There will be a panic button system that reports to monitoring center and the Sheriff’s Office in each building, the superintendent said.
In the fall, MCS will coordinate with the FBI in Asheville to present to middle school and high school students and their parents/guardians about internet safety, especially relating to online enticement and "sextortion."
Additionally, the school will continue its partnership with the Department of Public Safety to conduct safety checks of its schools, Hoffman said.
"Contacts are typically drive-thru and surveying of parking areas and touching base with staff outside of our buildings," Hoffman said. "In total, 96 contacts have been completed with our six schools."
"Our partnership with law enforcement is a critical part of our daily preparations," Hoffman said. "We have to be vigilant and prepared for any possibility at any time. Our students have to feel safe in order to be safe.
"No organization can do this alone. That’s why strong community partnerships are integral to our safe school efforts, they are more important now than ever."
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Madison County schools add AR-15 rifles to enhance security