Hall schools hire safety coordinator
The Hall County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to hire a coordinator for safety and emergency preparedness for the school system.
The partnership between the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and board of education comes in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings and increased attention to school safety issues.
Earl Roach will fill the role, supervising the district’s 12 school resource officers, including conducting routine safety audits and coordinating efforts with state and national law enforcement.
Roach will work directly with the school system, local emergency response units and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate and improve emergency planning and preparedness.
The board approved up to $60,000, which includes needed equipment and Roach’s salary, for the initiative. The board will cover 70 percent of that and the sheriff’s office 30 percent.
Roach, a Hall County school resource officer since that program began in 1998, is also director of Region 1 of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Students and teachers spent a portion of Monday morning quietly hunkered down in the far corners of their classrooms while police officers roamed the halls.
Woods Mill High School, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and Gainesville High School prepared for a worst-case scenario with a code red drill.
The drill gave students, teachers and police officers an opportunity to practice how they will safely respond if a dangerous intruder were to threaten the campus. Other Gainesville City schools will be participating in code red drills this week. The drills are being observed by the Gainesville Police Department.
At 10 a.m., an announcement came over the loud speakers and alerted the nearly 1,000 students on the shared Woods Mill and Fair Street campus that they were in a code red drill.
Several police officers stood near the front office and waited for two minutes after the announcement to simulate their estimated response time. While they waited, one officer used an iPad to view the hallways through the school’s surveillance system.
The halls were empty.
After the two minutes, several police officers and school officials walked through the halls, peeking in windows and jiggling doorknobs.
The classroom doors were locked and the lights inside were turned off. By all appearances, the school was empty — which is exactly what the police wanted to see.
Janet Rebollar, a third-grade student at Fair Street, hid in the corner of her classroom. Some of the other children hid under a table. She said they’ve practiced the drill enough that she feels she would be safe if something bad were to happen.
“Our teacher, she’ll keep us safe,” Janet said. “She’ll tell us to calm down, don’t be scared at all.”
The schools have practiced this drill four times before.
“This is the most we’ve ever done in my years with the school system,” said Kim Davis, assistant principal at Fair Street. “The kids are just like ‘OK, no big deal.’ The more you do it, the less frightening it is.”
Lt. Jay Parrish, with the Gainesville police training division, said the Woods Mill and Fair Street campus presents a bit of a logistical challenge because there are so many students from so many different schools present in one facility.
“Everyone had different challenges and that’s what we’re here to see,” Parrish said. “We’re here to learn too.
We’ve made several notes about things that will help us as an agency if we’re responding to this building. We may not always be able to be in contact with our school resource officer so it’s helping us, too.”
Gainesville City Schools teachers and staff members are also being required to watch a video on what to do in the event of an attack and to complete an active shooter training course by March 18.
Assistant Superintendent Elfreda Lakey said people tend to panic when they get into a dangerous situation. By training and preparing for the possibility of a shooting, such as the one in Connecticut in December, the students and teachers will be calmer and will know what to do to get out of the situation safely.
“We want this to be as familiar for the kids as fire drills and bad weather drills,” Lakey said. “They know them like the back of their hands. And we want this to be the same way.”