Public shares concerns about school safety

HOOVER – With the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida weighing on the minds of students, parents, school officials and city leaders, a safety meeting was held at Spain Park High School on Tuesday, March 6.

A panel that addressed an audience of stakeholders from across the community was composed of Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, Police Chief Nick Derzis, Fire Chief Clay Bentley, Mayor Frank Brocato, City Councilman Derrick Murphy, Board of Education President Earl Cooper, National Association of School Resource Officers Director of Operations Mac Hardy, Christine Hoffman representing HCS parent-teacher organizations and HCS Foundation Executive Director Janet Turner.

Kathy Murphy laid out guidelines for the “Focus on School Safety,” including being respectful and limiting comments to three minutes per person.

SPHS Principal Larry Giangrosso introduced two students who are part of a group that formed to assess and possibly offer recommendations about school safety.

Anastasia Zellner and Mohammed Akhtar were the first members of the audience to address the panel.

Akhtar, a senior, said more should be done to address mental health issues, and Zellner, a junior, asked whether “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate” strategies could be incorporated.

“We feel like sitting ducks sitting in our classrooms waiting to see if it’s real or not,” Zellner said.

Several other students, parents and interested community members addressed the panel.

Questions and suggestions included steps to control traffic around schools, requiring students to wear identification badges, items such as blackout shades that could enhance safety in classrooms during a lockdown, how officials can intervene when a student is troubled, metal detectors, the number of SROs in schools and treatment of children with special needs.

At the beginning of the event, Murphy highlighted ongoing school safety efforts across, the district.

Hoover employs 11 full-time school resource officers, 13 reserve officers serving as SROs, two full-time sergeants in supervisory roles and four additional full-time Hoover Police Department positions to offer coverage of each school in the district at all times.

Each school also performs required drills, annual training, annual reviews and other drills.

Murphy said 1,293 video surveillance cameras are in place at schools across the district, including 250-300 at the district’s two high schools, and 82 more are set to be added by the summer.

“Every school in Hoover has a school safety plan,” Murphy said.

Measures being studied include de-escalation/restraint training, additional lockdown buttons, consistency in drill tones across schools, adding blue strobes for notification and redesigning lobby areas at some schools.

Murphy noted the complexity of securing doors at schools, particularly high schools, which can have numerous exterior exits (Hoover High School has more than 100, for example) and students coming and going throughout the day.

A second school safety meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 8, at Hoover High School.