By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
GOOD HOPE —
With details still pouring in about the Boston Marathon bombing that left three dead Monday afternoon, Cullman County schools’ superintendent Billy Coleman took the floor in front of approximately 40 parents and teachers at Good Hope to talk about school safety.
He said the Boston tragedy is only the latest reminder of the dangers at large, and didn’t have to look much further back to also cite last year’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 dead.
Coleman said school officials understand the importance of making campuses safer, and it’s an initiative they’re taking very seriously.
“There is no question,” he said. “We are going to be safer.”
The superintendent cited a handful of major areas the system hopes to focus on this year to make all 29 schools and 15 campuses safer.
Since many county school campuses have open designs with several buildings, it makes a true “lock down” almost impossible. So, Coleman said the board is focusing on ways to make it harder for a potential gunman to get into buildings and classrooms, which will hopefully give law enforcement additional time to respond. The system has also contracted with a company to have every school schematic included in a government law enforcement database.
“We’ve learned that when someone does this type of heinous act, it’s within 5-7 minutes that most of the damage is done,” Coleman said. “If we can make it harder for someone to get into the school, and specifically into the classrooms, it can save lives. The longer we can keep them out of the classrooms, the more lives we can save.”
Ideally, Coleman said officials would like to have a resource officer stationed at every school, or at least every campus. But, with 15 campuses and just seven resource officers available, options are limited. Coleman is confident they’ll be able to add one more resource officer soon, but that still leaves too few officers covering too many campuses.
“We would love to have more resource officers, but we just don’t have the money,” Coleman said. “We’ve actually asked the [Cullman County] Commission for help, but they don’t have it, either. But the sheriff’s office has been working with our system, and they’ve helped survey our campuses to point out where our security needs exist.”
The system is also developing a new communication protocol, which would allow school staff to issue alerts from anywhere on the campus. Currently, most communication is routed through the main office.
“Most of the messages come through the office, and sometimes that’s the first place somebody might hit,” Coleman said. “So, now we’re looking at ways we can activate warnings from anywhere. That way, we can equip teachers that may be near entryways.”
School safety is also a hot topic in Montgomery this legislative session, with several potential bills in the works aimed at making Alabama schools less susceptible to attacks.
Proposals made by Republican legislators at a State House news conference Tuesday includes giving schools permission and more money to hire trained resource officers to provide security. The proposals include one by Republican Rep. Allen Treadaway of Morris to issue up to $50 million in bonds for schools to buy necessary equipment and make renovations so public schools can secure all entrances.
A proposal by Republican Rep. Alan Baker of Brewton would replace existing “fire drills” with “emergency drills” that would take into consideration other emergency situations. At least once per semester there would be a “code red” drill to prepare schools for a threat of violence that would cause the lockdown of schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.