By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
Dr. Jan Harris held a stack of messages in one hand Wednesday from parents and grandparents concerned about the safety of students following the murder of elementary school students and educators at a Connecticut school.
By early afternoon, Harris — the city schools superintendent — had returned most of the calls. The callers were not just worried about safety, they were offering their assistance in making sure students and teachers are safe.
“One grandmother told me she would be willing to guard the doors, and she said she knew a lot of others who would be willing to do the same,” Harris said. “When I thought about the offers from so many people, I came to the realization that perhaps we’ve been missing a great opportunity to involve retired people in our community with some of our needs in the schools.”
In fact, the conclusion of the holidays will signal the beginning of a lot of discussions among schools officials, police, and the community concerning the safety of students and teachers.
“We have already been working closely with the police department and, while we’ve felt good about our safety plans, there will be a tightening of those plans through the input we gain locally,” Harris said. “We will have to look again at our entrances and exits at our campuses.”
With plans developed for essentially restructuring the Cullman High campus, officials will consider bringing in consultants to look at additional safety features.
“The work will connect many of our buildings, which will create a greater environment of safety. But at the same time, in light of recent events, we don’t want to instill fear in our students,” Harris said.
In the days following the Connecticut murders, Harris said teachers and staff have been careful not to alarm elementary students about the tragedy of last week. She said many of the younger students are not aware of what happened.
Among older students, the discussions have been frequent, she said.
“We know this has affected so many people and we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that safety remains a top priority at our schools,” Harris said.
Among the discussions of city and county school officials is whether uniformed law enforcement officers should be stationed at each school. Many schools have resource officers who work at the schools, but county superintendent Billy Coleman said those numbers could increase if funding is available.
“I know that we will be turning to our principals for leadership in what should be done at the schools. We have turned over our safety plans to the sheriff’s office and we will be working closely with them in the weeks ahead,” Coleman said.
Officers continued to provide extra patrols or stationed themselves at local schools as the holidays approached.
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.