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Hall school board OKs safety committee
System looks to eliminate furlough day for teachers in May
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The Hall County Board of Education voted Monday night to approve a committee that would meet regularly to evaluate safety policies and procedures.

The committee could be made up of a board member, a law enforcement representative, system employees, parents and others in the community, such as retired military personnel.

Speaking at the board’s monthly work session, Superintendent Will Schofield said he wanted the board’s input on the matter before proceeding. He suggested that the committee would report to the board, “at least on a quarterly basis.”

The idea was met with approval from board members.

“We’ve had a lot of communication via emails (concerning) some of the situations we’ve had in the county, and, of course, after the Newtown tragedy (in Connecticut), this issue has been on the forefront,” Chairman Nath Morris said.

“I think they’re working through some issues in the legislature, as well, but I think we don’t need to wait on that to happen. I think it’s a good idea to constitute this committee.”

Morris added that he “would love to have a committee like this to maybe do an audit of our schools” and their safety preparations.

“You can’t do too much,” Bill Thompson said. “Things you used to think were important now you better look at as a threat, rather than a veiled threat or somebody just kidding around.

“If it does happen, somebody is going to (investigate) and see where we missed the clues and, at that point, somebody is going to be liable. You can’t do enough as far as safety goes.”

A safety committee “is a great and necessary option for us,” Thompson said.

Said board member Sam Chapman: “I think we need to be proactive all the way on this.”

Schofield told the board he would come back later with further thoughts about the committee makeup.

“If you have any individuals you’d like to recommend, please let me know,” he said.

Schofield added that, upon board instruction, he has been talking with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office “about the potential of sharing the costs of some additional horsepower to oversee safety, security and coordination” between the two governmental entities.

“We just want to make sure we are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to making sure our efforts are coordinated and that we’re keeping our boys and girls safe.”

He said he hoped to update the board on those talks, possibly at its next meeting.

“We’ve had a couple of ... scares over the last month, and our folks and procedures have done what you would have hoped they would do,” Schofield said. “We have kept school safe ... and I’ve been extremely encouraged by people doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

One recent incident involved a seventh-grader at Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development charged with making terroristic threats after another student heard the 14-year-old comment about “shooting up the school,” officials said.

A Flowery Branch High School student was charged in late January with disruption of a public school.

That student, an 18-year-old senior, was accused of using the social photo-sharing site Instagram to fabricate “knowledge of a shooting that was allegedly going to take place, knowing there was no fact to it,” said Sgt. Kiley Sargent, sheriff’s office spokesman.

The hoax spurred an investigation by state and local authorities and resulted in some 1,000 students checking out of school.

In other business, the school board is looking at eliminating a furlough day for teachers in May, as part of one of the days teachers work after the school year, or “post-planning.”

“You’ll remember in May when we adopted a budget, we said our plan would be that in October, finances permitting, we would ask you to add back a student day,” Schofield said.

“You did that in October. We said we’d come back to you in February and if finances permitted, we would ask you to add some (post-planning) time. (Teachers) need that time.”

Schofield said that he and Lee Lovett, deputy superintendent, “believe we’re in a place financially where we can add that day back.”

Adding the day back would cost the system about $700,000, Lovett said after the meeting.