Schools review security after shooting

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 18, 2012 

Local school systems have increased security and are reviewing their safety plans in the wake of Friday's school shootings in Newtown, Conn., but officials emphasize they don't want to turn their schools into fortresses.

Here's a roundup of how the districts have reacted:

Muscogee County

Additional patrol support has come from the sheriff's office, marshal's office and police department, but the Muscogee County School District doesn't disclose the number of security officers and their locations for safety reasons, said school district communications director Valerie Fuller.

In a news release, interim superintendent John A. Phillips Jr. said, "In addition to our safety plans for each school, our principals and building administrators have been asked to check access control points and monitoring systems for any problems. We will continue to adhere to our security procedures and policies and review them on a regular basis."

Harris County

Harris County schools are "pulling in loose ends" as they review their safety plans and intruder protocols, said superintendent Craig Dowling.

He declined to specify those loose ends for security reasons, but he said they include examining entrance areas.

"Schools are not built to keep people out," he said. "They were built and designed to welcome people in."

Law enforcement officers usually aren't assigned to Harris County schools -- though a sheriff's deputy normally patrols the high school -- but each school had a sheriff's deputy on campus Monday and "if they could" Tuesday, before the district starts its winter break today, Dowling said.

The schools without an office designed to monitor the front door instead have an employee who sits at the entrance, he said.

Chattahoochee County

Chattahoochee County schools regularly review their safety plans, conduct drills and have security cameras, but the district is at a higher security level now, said superintendent Jimmy Martin.

"We have met with our faculty and told them to be more observant of situations and folks that are on our campus," Martin said. "I want our schools to never become a place where our parents are not welcome and a place that is so locked down our kids feel like they are in some kind of detention facility.

"It's a tough balance. … But we are reviewing everything as far as access to buildings to see if there is anything we can do better. You can see the care in our teacher's faces."

A school security officer already was assigned to the middle and high school campus and also patrols the elementary school less then a mile away, Martin said. A sheriff's deputy routinely rides through as well, and both officers are trying to be more visible, he said.

"We also are being a little more diligent about making sure that doors that are supposed to be locked are locked and making sure that doors that are supposed to be closed are closed," he said. "I think everybody is a little more sensitive to that and should be."

Phenix City

Phenix City school principals reviewed their safety plan with their staff, said superintendent Larry DiChiara.

"We've had administrators and even teachers email me and say our school could be safer if that back door was locked," he said. "I've asked my staff to take a look at each one of those suggestions."

DiChiara, however, is wary of overreacting.

"We don't want our schools to look like a fortress, a prison, with barbed-wire fencing and burglar bars on windows," he said.

DiChiara recalled the shootings in a Colorado movie theater earlier this year. He took his children "right back" to the movies that week to teach them a life lesson: "You can't live in fear."

The police department provides a security officer at each of the district's secondary schools, but no officers are posted at the elementary schools. The district hasn't requested an increase in patrols, DiChiara said.

"We have a realistic understanding that, when someone wants to hurt somebody, there's really nothing we can do to prevent it," he said. "You can only be vigilant and prepare and then just have faith that those kinds of things won't happen to children in your district."

Russell County

Russell County School District superintendent Mike Green wasn't reached for comment Tuesday.

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