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Roach leads safety effort at schools
Former East Hall resource officer set to work for county system
East Hall High School student Brooke Smith hugs Sgt. Earl Roach who is leaving his role as school resource officer there to become the Hall County Schools supervisor/coordinator for safety and emergency preparedness. - photo by Tom Reed

Sgt. Earl Roach was packing up his office at East Hall High School last week.

With notebooks scattered on the floor and his prize possessions — an Atlanta Falcons football helmet and a University of Georgia wooden football encased in glass — ready to be boxed up, Roach prepared for the move to his new office at 711 Green St., Hall County Schools’ district office.

Roach’s new position as the supervisor/coordinator for safety and emergency preparedness for the school system has started, but his physical move won’t happen until his replacement is hired at East Hall, where he has served as school resource officer for 14 years.

But don’t expect to see Roach planted in an office chair any time soon. His daily schedule will include watching over 33 schools as he checks in with principals and supervises the district’s 13 school resource officers.

Under Roach’s watchful eyes, East Hall High School’s 984 students saw him as a daily presence in the school. Roach’s responsibilities now include becoming a sentinel for all 26,694 students in the district, including 20 elementary schools, six middle schools, six high schools and one nontraditional school.

Even so, the move is somewhat of a loss to the high school.

“On one hand, it is a shot to us,” said Principal Jeff Cooper of East Hall High School. “He has been a great stabilizer and is very knowledgeable in the trade.” Roach has developed friendships with the students and staff, Cooper added.

“The kids see him and have confidence in him; many have befriended him,” he said.

Cooper said Roach, as a leader in the SRO unit, was often asked to address safety and emergency responses away from East Hall.

That leadership might be one reason he was selected coordinator in a unanimous vote at the Feb. 25 school board meeting.

He will lead the SROs as well as continuously assess the safety and emergency preparedness procedures and ensure all schools have what they need to keep the students and staff safe. The board approved up to $60,000, which includes Roach’s salary and some equipment, for the safety changes.

Superintendent Will Schofield spoke highly of Roach’s qualifications.

“Earl Roach is a long-standing SRO who has been involved in best practices on a national level,” Schofield wrote in an email to the Times. “Equally important, he has the right temperament to lead this initiative. Earl has tremendous knowledge, and also has the interpersonal skills to work well with school personnel, families in our community and his colleagues in law enforcement.”

Roach said the need for the new role was in response to the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and also minor incidents in the Hall school system.

“Someone needs to respond that is trained in emergency procedures, a trained certified deputy sheriff and a school resource officer available daily,” said Roach, who will work between the school system and Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

Roach entered law enforcement with the sheriff’s office in 1991. He has been an SRO since 1998. He is also a CPR instructor.

“Hall County is ahead of the game when it comes to safety and emergency preparedness,” he said. The district has had an SRO in every high school since 1999, he said.

The SRO program was tested in late January when a Flowery Branch High School student allegedly used the social media photo-sharing site, Instagram, to fabricate information about a school shooting. The post led to 1,000 students being checked out of the school that day.

“The worst thing to do during a possible incident (at a school) is to try to come to get your children,” Roach said. He said the traffic with parents arriving might have hindered the security.

“The principal went outside and talked with many of the parents; over one third of them left after talking to the principal,” Roach said.

Roach said it is important to give parents information in a timely fashion, though.

“As events have transpired in recent months, it became apparent that our district would be well-served to do even more,” Schofield said. “Our board has made a decision to utilize resources to ensure we are doing all that is within our abilities to keep our boys and girls safe.”

A new safety website will be up and running soon, Roach said. Information on safety and emergency preparedness will be updated on this site. Robo-calling is already used to inform schools and parents of an emergency situation at a Hall school.

Roach said he will continuously offer training to his SROs and make sure all the schools have what they need.

“I know we are prepared,” said Roach.