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State, local leaders discuss future of school safety

Published 11:41pm Friday, January 4, 2013

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

State and county leaders are looking at “their best options” when it comes to Shelby County school safety, according to state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

Ward and Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Birmingham, met with school district administrators, Sheriff Chris Curry and other Shelby County Sheriff’s Office representatives and Shelby County Commissioner Mike Vest Jan. 3 to discuss the future of school safety.

“There’s not going to be one answer that’s going to prevent future gun death,” Ward said. “First of all, we have a good foundation in Shelby County to improve our security plans. We have a good foundation, but we can always improve upon it. That’s got to be our goal.

“It’s going to take all levels of government to do it, not just the school board or the Sheriff’s Department,” Ward added.

As an immediate response, Curry deployed nine extra deputies Jan. 2 to join two existing deputies in manning the schools for which the Sheriff’s Department is responsible. Curry said he plans to keep deputies in the schools until “we get a clear indication for why we shouldn’t do it.”

The deputies currently are being paid with overtime funding, so the act of putting the deputies in the schools hasn’t affected regular daytime patrols.

In the near future, however, possibly as soon as next week, Curry said he will have to pull additional personnel from regular patrols, as he’ll pay regular time instead of overtime.

“Every aspect of our agency will be impacted,” he said. “That’s when there will be a real reduction in services.”

During the week before Christmas, when deputies were placed in schools after the Newtown, Conn. shooting, Curry said the move cost the Sheriff’s Department $27,000 in overtime pay, in addition to six deputies working their regular shifts.

After the Jan. 3 meeting, Curry said “everybody is looking at their best options and being very cooperative. I felt they believed (the meeting) was very productive.”

“At this point, it’s a local problem, and we’ve got to fix it at a local level,” Curry said, noting state-led solutions could take an extended amount of time.

Ward said the meeting participants “agree that having a presence of law enforcement at the schools is a good idea.”

According to Ward, Alabama legislators have proposed 10 to 15 different bills concerning school safety, including a bill allowing teachers to carry guns, which Ward called a “knee-jerk reaction” to the Connecticut shooting.

“I’m really hesitant about anything like that. I think we should work closer with law enforcement before we go down that road,” Ward said. “I think some people are looking for a quick, political solution, and there isn’t one.”

Blackwell said he felt the meeting was productive.

“A school should always be a secure place for children, and I am confident we will continue to find new and better ways to protect our schools,” he said.

In a media release, the Shelby County Board of Education stated the following measures are being taken in local schools:

- Every school will continue to follow and review their safety plans.

- Every Shelby County School has video surveillance cameras (some schools have as many as 32).

- School system architects are reviewing all school entrances and working on a plan to improve safety in those areas.

- School district officials are investigating interior and exterior locking doors at all schools.

- School safety plans are in the process of being uploaded to the Virtual Alabama program.

- A representative from the school district attended the recent school safety training in Jefferson County and will be training local school administrators.

- Law enforcement and school officials are working together to provide the best safety and security possible.

“In the days to come, many conversations will take place on this issue,” the release stated. “Safe schools are always our number one priority. It is reassuring that the appropriate leaders are working together to address this critical issue.”

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