School officials list proactive safety measures against shootings

·9 min read

Jul. 22—With one eye on the headlines and horrific images that come from schoolyards under siege, public school administrators across Calhoun County are striving to provide the safest environment possible for their students.

A check of each school system shows that administrators have several measures in place; in interviews with The Anniston Star, each county's school superintendent or employee in charge of security answered the same questions. Their responses, edited for clarity, are as follows:

Anniston Schools

D. Ray Hill is the superintendent of Anniston Schools.

How do you keep your students safe? We are following what the state requires. There are drills that are required of us. Since Ms. Suttle came on board a year ago, we are sharpening the drills and working with Alabama Bureau of Investigations. [Anita Suttle was promoted in 2021 to be the director of child nutrition programs and school security.] They are updating what we are doing to make sure the children and staff know what to do. Also, we are working with officials at the sheriff's department and the Anniston Police Department. We may add some things. For example, we have a plan and are talking about doing some things differently.

Do you have school resource officers? We have a school resource officer and are in talks right now to get more. We are talking with the city about that, in addition to providing them with specific training.

Do you have training for students, staff and teachers? We have teachers who have been here for a while and know what to do, and many of our students are astute in performing in a situation. We are training our students about better ways to do things and are updating our methods.

What about threats from within the school? Regarding mental health, we have the 1-800 nationwide call line. Ms. Suttle is working to make sure our students, staff and teachers know about it. Even teachers may have a moment from time to time.We are concerned about safety in terms of how students are reacting from a mental standpoint, and we are giving teachers some guidelines to identify specific students that may cause harm to themselves, the students or the staff.

Do you monitor social media? Our instruction technology coordinator is working on that with plans to install additional technology. Also, we have students and parents who are informing us about potential situations. We have cameras and are updating ours at the schools. We hope to complete the update right away.

Calhoun County Schools

Randy Reaves is the director of safety and security at the Calhoun County.

How do you keep your students safe? We have a applied for a "Community Oriented Policing Services Grant" from the federal government, and our schools have cameras now. We are in the process of trying to obtain the grant to upgrade the camera system to give our law enforcement access to the cameras and see what is going on at the time of any incident.

Do you have school resource officers? Yes, we have several assigned SROs.

Do you have training for students, staff and teachers? We have access-controlled doors at every school. We are informing our students about safety and have state-mandated training and we conduct the drills. We make sure students know what they should and should not do. We do this at the beginning of each school year and semester. We have a hard lockdown drill the first six weeks of each semester and have drills once a month. We make the students and teachers aware not to answer doors or leave one open.

What about threats from within the school? Wehave a mental health officer who has created a threat assessment. It involves school administrators, SROs, counselors, and the students guardian or parent. It is a group effort, and we do the same for students who self-harm, pose a threat or act out. We have an action plan for students who need help.

Do you monitor social media? If we have a student who crosses the line in a criminal way, the SRO and I would be involved. We monitor bullying. Our technology department has filters that alert administrators and SROs. We encourage students that if they see something, say something. They need to let someone know of a problem that needs addressing.

Jacksonville Schools

Mike Howard is the Jacksonville School Superintendent.

How do you keep your students safe? We have safety entrances that prevent unauthorized staff from passing a certain point. We have updated and expanded our camera network. We have installed detectors throughout the building to identify potential issues associated with vaping, fighting, etc. Due to recent events in our world, it is important to maintain security at the highest level. Our parents trust us to provide a safe and orderly learning environment for our students. For learning to truly occur, staff and students must feel safe. Our duty is to do all we can to make that happen daily. Although we must make our schools more secure, we must be able to balance it so that we don't create school prisons. The K-12 setting is pivotal for the social and emotional development of children. They must explore their surroundings, explore academics, athletics, the arts, and explore who they will become once they graduate. We must not allow fear to stifle creativity and opportunity; however, we must continue to enhance security measures to keep everyone safe.

Do you have school resource officers? We have a comprehensive safety plan that involves a partnership with the Jacksonville Police Department, our SROs, and our staff. Our staff is ALICE trained, an acronym that addresses the following concepts relating to an active shooter and provides education for school personnel: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. We utilize a first-response app called CrisisGo to report issues in our schools as quickly as possible. We have multiple SROs on our campus to serve our schools. We are fortunate to have a K9 unit assisting our schools.

Do you have training for students, staff and teachers? We have instituted locked-door protocols for interior and exterior doors. We are required to have multiple drills throughout the school year, and Chief Marcus Wood will be aiding us with active shooter training. We have faculty meetings, student assemblies, etc. to inform our staff and students about safety.

How do you train for threats from within the schools? We employ a mental health coordinator to work with our students when needed.

Do you monitor social media? We have a public information officer who maintains and monitors social media.

Oxford Schools

Shannon Stanley is the superintendent at Oxford School System.

How are you keeping students safe? We serve a good many students in our region. Our priority is in having a safe environment, so they don't have to worry about their safety and wellbeing. Our primary philosophy is to provide a safe environment by making sure the physical facilities are safe, that there are safety precautions in place and that we are prepared. Those entering are screened and go through a separate entrance. This system is in place in all our schools and our central office.

Do you have school resource officers: We have police officers on campus each day. We work with the Oxford Police Department to make sure the police can function as SROs, and that they are visible to the students as helpful resources. We have active camera systems so we can monitor hallways and the common areas. If there is a problem, we will know where and what it is. We try to make sure our eyes are on problems, and we are being current with any new technologies.

Do you have training for students, staff and teachers? We haveschool safety plans and train at all levels. We have monthly drills, the minimum required by state laws minimum, and we do more. We incorporate that into our plan. We practice clear communication among our first responders. This makes any response more effective. We are blessed to have our police department and Chief Bill Partridge leading that effort. We rely on them and their expertise. The best way to prevent an event is to think about it and plan.

How do you train for threats from within the schools? We help students understand they have advocates if they ever run into difficulty. We want to make sure they come to us and report things that are uncomfortable. For prevention and support of our students, we have social workers in our district to work with our school counselors, and there are mental health resources that are available in our community, resources that families may not know about. We have opportunities to provide counseling and to connect families and students who have needs outside of school. Prevention is an important piece of the puzzle. We encourage students to self-report.

Do you monitor social media? We have layers of technology to identify any types of abuse within the school system, and we receive notifications about things that are discussed and researched online.

Piedmont Schools

Jerry Snow is over the security of the Piedmont School. Mike Hayes is the superintendent.

How do you keep students safe? The schools have doors equipped with updated cameras and call systems. Visitors must press a buzzer to be allowed into the school system.

Do you have school resource officers? We have one or more SROs per school. SROs are on school campuses during school days and during other activities.

Do you have training for students, staff and teachers? Drills take place throughout the year. The Piedmont Police Department observes and evaluates how teachers and students respond and react. They offer advice on how to improve school security.

How do you train for threats from within the schools? We have counseling provided inside and outside of school. If a teacher sees a problem, the teacher will refer the student to counseling. We have app called RHITHM, and the students go to it on their devices, daily if necessary. The app asks questions about a teacher or child's physical and mental wellbeing, such as asking if a person is hungry or upset. The answer triggers an email to the administrators who can follow through on helping solve a problem. The kids have access to the app day or night, and it has been beneficial to us. (RHITHM stands for Real people, Heart-centered, Inspired, True believer, and Makers of change.)

Do you monitor social media? We block social media on campus. We provide our own devices, and we are set up to block anything that goes through our filters. If, outside of school, someone tells us a threat is make, we will address that.