ATLANTA — High-tech security, beefed-up policy and lawmakers touring the state are a few ways leaders are working to make Georgia schools safer before students return to class this fall.
Violence across the U.S., including a shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 students and staff members dead, means safety is top of mind for parents, teachers and students.
A bill implementing more safety regulations on K-12 Georgia schools went into effect this month, and a state senate committee on school safety suggests more state oversight may be on the way.
These are welcomed changes to Fulton County Schools’ executive director of safety and security Shannon Flounnory. He told Channel 2's Craig Lucie many of the changes being discussed across the state are already required in Fulton County.
But Flounnory said good people ready to follow a good plan is a first line of defense.
“I think the biggest mitigation factor has to do with people to make sure that the processes that are in place are being followed to the letter,” Flounnory said.
That process is the district's school safety plan. It addresses preparedness for natural disasters, acts of violence and terrorism. It's a requirement for Georgia schools to have a plan in place, but a new state law means changes.
“Now the local emergency management agency has to approve the safe school plan, which means they have more involvement, more input, more say in the safe school plan,” explained Gerry McGiboney, the deputy superintendent of policy for the Georgia Department of Education.
McGiboney said the new law also means the school safety plan must require staff training in violence prevention and mental health. He told Lucie the Department of Education does not enforce the changes, but districts will miss out on a stake in $16 million worth of school safety grants if they do not follow the new law.
More statewide regulation could be on the way, too.
The Georgia State Senate study committee on school safety is traveling across Georgia to learn what is and isn’t working in districts big and small. An early July meeting at Ringgold High School was one of six stops for the committee. More meetings will be held through the end of the year across the state. Committee members asked parents, teachers, students and community safety leaders for their input.
“We don’t want to have answers before we have heard from all the experts and all those local communities,” said state Sen. John Albers, who chairs the committee. “However, we’ve heard a lot of things today that make an awful lot of sense.”
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One recommendation lawmakers heard includes a mandate that schools assess safety plans on a regular basis. Dozens of schools have asked the state to assess their plans, but doing so is currently voluntary. Law enforcement at the Ringgold meeting cautioned some communities may resist if safety assessments become law.
“You’ve already heard the school superintendent talk on circumstance about how they have a cooperative effort, but that’s not the case everywhere in our state,” said Georgia Department of Public Safety Col. Mark McDonough. “So [regulators] have somebody come from the outside and produce this laundry list, is something that you can imagine, that’s of concern.”
Parents and students who spoke at the meeting said they were happy state lawmakers are listening, and they believe their comments are being taken seriously.
"Students, they are mainly impacted by this,” said high school sophomore Daley Culberson. “We’re in the schools and we’re the ones that are safe or not, and students have input and would love to give it, I know they would.”
Flounnory said many recommendations made to the committee are already practiced in Fulton County, including safety plan assessments.
“These assessments serve the purposes of providing feedback and not necessarily looking at some of these shortcomings as vulnerabilities but opportunities for continued improvement,” Flounnory said.
Cox Media Group