Nearly two weeks into classes following the holiday break, safety remains a priority for school officials.
On Monday, the Hall County Board of Education approved $100,000 in special purpose local option sales tax funds for safety upgrades to the county’s 33 public school campuses.
The upgrades range from adding peepholes in delivery doors to replacing locks to upgrading communication equipment on campus.
“It runs the entire gamut,” said Will Schofield, superintendent. “Nothing is major, but when you’ve got 33 different campuses it adds up. So we want to make sure whether it’s an 8-foot piece of fencing or whether it’s a door, that we’ve done everything we possibly can to make our campuses as safe as we can.”
Schofield said the upgrades and expenses are something that the system looks at yearly, but in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the improvement list was expedited.
“We have these expenditures and these improvements going on continuously, but you can imagine that the vigilance level went up to a 10 in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, so you just look at it again,” Schofield said. “I’ve actually been very pleased that the list is as small as it is.”
The system has also been working on its emergency and security preparedness plan, something officials said is a continuous process, not just to address the increased concern for school safety.
“There certainly has been a raised level of concern, but as I would expect from this community, it’s been a measured concern,” Schofield said. “There has not been paranoia, there has not been pandemonium — it has been very understandable.”
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office also had plans, following Sheriff Gerald Couch’s inauguration, to sit down with school officials and review the plans.
“We deal with a tornado the same way in 2013 as we did in 1983, but this whole idea of individuals coming onto our school campuses — that’s an area that is just continually evolving,” Schofield said.
“What we would’ve thought of as best practice 10, 15 years ago is not necessarily best practice today. Individuals that are involved in some sort of intruder situation, it is much more dynamic — people have to think on their feet.
There was a time when we just thought you just barricade yourself into a corner and hope for the best. That may or may not be the best course of action is what we’re learning. So, we’re training and teaching people some of those possibilities.”
Sgt. Earl Roach, a longtime school resource officer for Hall County, said the sheriff’s office has made an increased presence on school campuses, especially elementary schools, a part of the daily patrol.
“The sheriff’s office has asked the officer to ride by a school in their district and just say hello — make that part of their routine patrol and not an extra patrol,” Roach said.
Each middle and high school currently has an officer assigned to it through the school resource officer program, established in 1999. Through the program, trained deputies are assigned to each area school, becoming permanent fixtures on the campuses.
“(Safety upgrades have) been an ongoing process since the SROs have been in the business,” Roach said. “We communicate daily.”
The system plans to launch a school safety website before the end of the month for parents to use as a reference.