Board Looks to Improve School Security

January 11, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Mark Willoughby

The DeKalb County School System is reviewing measures to improve security in response to the recent deadly school shooting in Connecticut.

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby, during Thursday night's school board meeting, said letters are being sent to parents to reassure them. " It (letter) is talking about the things we are doing in DeKalb County, working with our local police, sheriff's department, and Charlie Parker of the local emergency management," said Willoughby. "The state has called a Safety Summit meeting to be held at the end of January. Mr. Charlie Parker has also asked to have a meeting in the county during January. We will be discussing safety and emergency procedures," he said.

One procedure mentioned in the letter is a practice that has already been in place for some time in the school system which is asking everyone visiting a school to come through the main entrance of the building and report to the office. Visitors are to sign-in, obtain a visitor's badge and proceed to their destination. After they have completed their visit, visitors are to return the visitor's badge to the office.

The school board apparently plans to meet at each of the schools in the coming months and during that time, the members will be taking a closer look at safety measures there. "Mr. (Johnny) Lattimore (school board chairman) has requested that as we go from school to school, to look at the safety aspects of each school and how to make each school a lot safer," said Willougbhy. "David Brown of Kaatz Binkley (architects) will do a survey and give us recommendations of what we might want to do. We have also asked some of our police officers and the sheriff's department to give us some recommendations of what might be good to do in our buildings also. We're being pro-active. I'd like to say we could make guarantees. We can't do that. But schools should be one of the safest places for students to be. We want our students to feel safe. We're going to do our best to take care of them and look out for them," said Willoughby.

For several years, DeKalb County High School has had a resource officer, who is employed by the sheriff's department to help address concerns. No other school in the system has one. School officials have not said publicly whether they would ask the county to fund the hiring of more school resource officers.

In the letter to parents, Willoughby wrote that "as a result of the tragic event that occurred in Connecticut, I wanted to reassure you that we are taking extra security measures to ensure the safety of all the students and staff within the DeKalb County School District. At the beginning of each new school year, DeKalb County Schools has made it a practice to review and update safety plans and procedures involving all individual schools as well as every department (transportation, maintenance, etc) in our system"

I have met with local law enforcement, principals, and supervisors recently to discuss and review our Safety plans. I can tell you we have many security measures in place. Some of those measures are visible to you, other measures are not. Our security measures are flexible, and we adapt our security measures to meet any new needs that arise. We routinely seek the advice of our local city police department, sheriff's department, and our Emergency Management personnel as well as state authorities on how to better safeguard our schools and improve our security measures. Our local police departments continually provide us with immediate and excellent support to keep our schools safe"

"In order to keep all children safe we are asking parents to enter at the main entrance of the building and to report to the office. At this time, you will sign-in, obtain a visitor's badge and proceed to your destination. When you have completed your visit with us, please return your visitor's badge to the office."

"We routinely conduct safety and fire drills in our schools, and we will continue to do so in the future. We also attend safety training sessions to keep current on school safety issues and concerns, and to share ideas on how to better protect our schools."

"As your Superintendent of Schools, I assure you that we are continually evaluating our school safety and security measures to keep our schools safe. During January, I will be attending two meetings relating with the safety of our schools. The first will be a DeKalb County Emergency Management meeting. The purpose of this meeting is for local representatives to engage in emergency planning, training, and overall emergency preparedness. The second meeting will be the School Safety Summit sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Education in order to receive the most recent updates pertaining to school safety," wrote Willoughby

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