Hall County Schools may use some of the $1 million in security funding it approved last week to purchase biometric gun safes, which would store assault rifles that could be used against an active shooter.
A safe could be accessed by a school’s designated sheriff’s deputy or by entering “a numerical code if a patrol officer arrived first,” said Superintendent Will Schofield.
He said the plan is not certain, but it is high on their list of considerations.
Right now, the only firearm carried by school resource officers is a 9mm handgun.
“That really puts your law enforcement at a significant disadvantage,” Schofield said. “So we have given serious thought over the last couple of years of placing — and in some places that nobody would know about except the principal and local law enforcement — weapons so if an officer finds themselves there with a shooter, they could very quickly access a different kind of weapon to do whatever they needed to do.”
The idea comes from discussions with law enforcement, he said.
He said they have not yet decided how many safes they will purchase, or at which schools they will be placed. But “possibly all schools” if law enforcement and school security personnel recommend it, he said.
Only middle and high schools have SROs. Schofield has said it would probably cost $3 to $4 million to hire an SRO at each of the district's 20 elementary schools, and while school board member Mark Pettitt has signaled his support for such an expansion, Schofield said Tuesday they are not planning to do so at this time.
He said the biometric gun safes can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, adding that they will favor buying safes that can be bolted into the ground. They may also be disguised.
“They look like some piece of equipment that's supposed to be sitting in a corner, and I guess everybody walks by it for years and never even knows what it is,” he said.
The news comes after district officials had been slow to share details about their new security plans, partly because they had not been ironed out.
The Hall County school board entered executive session at its July 26 meeting to discuss security plans.
One thing the school system is not considering is arming teachers, Schofield said.
“People have to be awfully careful about spending a lot of money on things that are proving to not make much of a difference,” he said, “like trying to put handguns in the hands of teachers.”
The school system is also considering adding a second front door at some schools, effectively creating two front entrances.
“We're trying to be very thoughtful about making it as difficult as possible to come in,” Schofield said.
Despite the revelations Tuesday, though, he said school security is much more about school culture and mental health than infrastructure.
At the school board meeting Monday, school officials said they will ramp up efforts to ensure that every student has at least one “trusted adult” at their school.
“You want to know what can we do to try to make schools safer? We can try to give some of these struggling kids some support, and try to help them through these rough patches in their life,” Schofield said.
He has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want schools to resemble fortresses or prisons.
“We could build the Great Wall of China around all our campuses and put an armed guard on every corner,” he said. “No. 1, we just can't afford that. No. 2, I don't think that's the kind of environment most people want their children going to school in, and so it's not a hard science. It's a continuous balancing act, as so many things are in our world, and we want to create safety without creating anxiety in children and in their parents.”