School systems across the country over the past several years have been forced to review their security plans for all the wrong reasons.
When a shooting occurred at Carver High School last August, Thomasville City Schools administrators felt it was time to review its own security procedures. What they found was a lot of work needed to be done in order to make the four TCS campuses safer for students.
Georgia Marshall, TCS chief administrative officer, at Tuesday night's board of education meeting announced that a comprehensive security plan incorporating all aspects of student safety is coming together thanks to a collaborative effort of administrators and school resource officers.
“This safety plan is a work in progress,” Marshall said. “But the work in progress is better than it's ever been before. We feel much better about where we're going with safety. Are we there? By no means. As we work daily we see there is greater need. As different aspects of safety are addressed, I think we'll be there.”
Following the shooting at Carver High School, school resource officers Chris Cantrell and John Regan wanted to find out what security measures were in place across the four TCS campuses and how any procedures could be improved. What they found was an inconsistent plan that differed from school to school.
“When we applied to become SROs we asked for a bunch of training,” said Regan. “What we got was an hour-long sit-down with a previous SRO. They handed us a set of keys and said 'we'll see you at the Christmas party.' We came into this knowing nothing. What we tried to find were the biggest cause of problems and the biggest causes of concern.”
Following a security plan model from a school system in Alaska, Regan and Cantrell combed every campus, uncovering every lock that didn't have a key and every alarm without a code. They looked at broken windows, whether doors locked from the inside or the outside, if there were any hazardous materials that students could be exposed to and if any continuity existed from one campus to the next.
“The things about Columbine and Sandy Hook really kind of came a little closer with the shooting at Carver High School,” Cantrell said. “The main problem we found was that each school up to this point was responsible for their own plan, so each school was different. If you had a substitute teacher that worked at multiple schools, she wouldn't know what to do in a situation based on which school she was at.”
Using the information from the SRO survey, TCS administrators, including principals, assistant principals, health and wellness, nurses, custodial services, and food and nutrition, came together in an effort to formulate the groundwork for a holistic approach to creating a new security plan for the system.
“As we were working on the plan, one of the recommendations of our offices was that they found out that in different schools, different signals were meaning different things,” said Marshall. “We had a process in place where green at one school didn't mean what it was supposed to mean and blue didn't mean what it was supposed to mean. Eventually each school will have their own plan but there will be some basic components that we place in the district plan that will be addressed at each school.”
TCS Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, who is nearing the end of the first year in the school system, called the SRO assessments “eye opening” as to how secure the schools were.
“Coming into this new position, one of the things I had on my list of very important things to address was developing a safety plan that would take into consideration all the different types of crisis management situations that could occur,” Pitre-Martin said. “We really took on that charge of looking at other models and other school district's safety plans to kind of guide us. We had a lot of people at the table. When you bring all of those people to the table you get a lot of different viewpoints, which is what you really need to think through your crisis management.”
Board of Education members tabled the new plan for 30 days. Pitre-Martin said the document will be updated at least once a year in order to comply with any changes made at the state or federal level.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.