A va­ri­ety of mea­sures used

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIELLE EVER­SON de­v­er­son@cov­news.com

Last week, more than 800 stu­dents were evac­u­ated from Ron­ald E. McNair Dis­cov­ery Learn­ing Acad­emy in De­catur as a man with an as­sault ri­fle and other weapons ex­changed gun­fire with po­lice at the el­e­men­tary school.

Though no one was in­jured and 20-year-old Michael Bran­don Hill, who opened fire at the school, is in cus­tody, safety in schools con­tin­ues to be a topic of dis­cus­sion.

In New­ton County, school sys­tem of­fi­cials con­tinue to work to keep stu­dents safe. Af­ter the 2012 shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School that claimed 26 lives, in­clud­ing 20 chil­dren, in New­town, Conn., New­ton County be­gan a pilot safety pro­gram at New­ton High School.

Gary Shat­tuck, NCSS di­rec­tor of tech­nol­ogy and me­dia ser­vices, said the New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ap­proved pur­chas­ing ViewPath for New­ton High in March. Shortly there­after, sev­eral NHS class­rooms had cam­eras (ViewPath) and silent alarms (SAFE) in­stalled.

“This was a pack­age of three prod­ucts: a sound am­pli­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, a silent alarm sys­tem, and a cam­era sys­tem to im­prove in­struc­tional prac­tices and to im­prove stu­dent be­hav­ior,” Shat­tuck said.

He added that, in April, the Board ap­proved plac­ing ViewPath in most class­rooms in the other New­ton County high schools and at all mid­dle schools. So far, Shat­tuck said, 552 class­rooms have had ViewPath tech­nol­ogy in­stalled and fac­ulty and staff have been trained on the sys­tem.

“We trained a core group of teach­ers at all the mid­dle and high schools, which in­cluded New­ton, on the ViewPath sys­tem on July 29,” he said. “It is the teach­ers in this core group who are re­spon­si­ble for train­ing the other teach­ers in the build­ing on the ViewPath Sys­tem.

“We are of­fer­ing six fol­low-up train­ings to each of th­ese core groups, start­ing on Sept. 4. Each of th­ese fol­low-up train­ings will be spaced one month apart in or­der to make sure we in­crease the

ca­pac­ity of teach­ers to use this equip­ment ef­fec­tively,” Shat­tuck said.

The school sys­tem’s mid­dle schools and high schools also have School Re­source Of­fi­cers (SROs) – spe­cial­ized sher­iff’s of­fice deputies – as­signed to them. Though no SROs are as­signed at el­e­men­tary schools, school sys­tem of­fi­cials said New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice deputies rou­tinely visit each school to en­sure safety. Ac­cord­ing to the county bud­get, the cost of SROs for the cur­rent school year is $719,380.

Jan Loomans, NCSS di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tional ser­vices, said the NCSS con­tin­ues to eval­u­ate the cost of adding SROs at the el­e­men­tary level, which, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, would cost about $800,000 an­nu­ally.

“The de­ci­sion was made that the school sys­tem could not af­ford to fund those po­si­tions at this time. This will con­tinue to be eval­u­ated dur­ing bud­get plan­ning each year,” Loomans said.

New­ton County Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Sa­man­tha Fuhrey said ViewPath tech­nol­ogy will be in­stalled at each of the el­e­men­tary schools in the near fu­ture, and noted that a timeline for in­stalling the tech­nol­ogy is in the works.

In ad­di­tion to ViewPath tech­nol­ogy and School Re­source Of­fi­cers, Loomans said the NCSS is in the process of in­stalling se­cu­rity ac­cess sys­tems on doors used by staff mem­bers at all schools through­out the day. The se­cu­rity sys­tem lim­its ac­cess based on the hours that each em­ployee works. The in­stal­la­tions should be com­pleted within two weeks, Loomans said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a sys­tem-wide safety com­mit­tee has de­vel­oped lock­down pro­ce­dures to en­sure that ev­ery school re­sponds in ex­actly the same way to in­trud­ers in its build­ing or to out­side threats, Loomans said.

“This in­for­ma­tion has been sup­plied to the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice,” she said.

She added that based on safety com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tions, all class­room doors re­main locked through­out the school day. The doors may re­main open while the class­room is oc­cu­pied, but must be closed when the class­room is empty.

“This al­lows the teacher to quickly se­cure the class­room in the event of an in­ter­nal lock­down sit­u­a­tion and pre­vents un­ob­served ac­cess to the class­rooms when empty,” she said.

Loomans said an ex­ist­ing main­te­nance po­si­tion has been con­verted to an En­ergy and Safety Spe­cial­ist po­si­tion to pro­vide ad­di­tional safety re­sources to all schools. And this sum­mer, she said, two main­te­nance staff mem­bers and one School Re­source Of­fi­cer at­tended “School Shooter” train­ing spon­sored by the FBI.

Loomans also said the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment con­ducted three school shooter train­ing ses­sions in one of the school sys­tem’s build­ings. She said the train­ing was manda­tory for all deputies and that some school staff mem­bers ob­served.g.

She said ad­di­tional se­cu­rity mea­sures are planned, but de­tails won’t be di­vulged.

“The Safety Com­mit­tee is work­ing with a GEMA school spe­cial­ist to main­tain an on­go­ing eval­u­a­tion of school safety pro­ce­dures – not only for in­trud­ers, but for all as­pects of school safety.”

Danielle Ever­son/the Cov­ing­ton News

East­side High School prin­ci­pal Jeff Cher pulls up a photo taken of a class­room by a ViewPath cam­era, af­ter a SAFE silent alarm was ac­ti­vated by a teacher in the class­room. Cher said in an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion, a teacher can ac­ti­vate the silent alarm and an email with a snap­shot of the class­room will be sent to school ad­min­is­tra­tors. The ViewPath au­dio sys­tem will sound in the front of­fice, alert­ing school ad­min­is­tra­tors that there is a prob­lem.

Danielle Ever­son/the Cov­ing­ton News

The ViewPath au­dio sys­tem.

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