By Morgan Bryce
Representatives from the Lee County Board of Education and Sheriff’s Office held a school safety forum last Thursday at East Smiths Station Elementary to discuss protocol and future security measures with parents and school administrators.
Following the recent rash of school-based violence across the country, ESSE Principal Paul Kohler opened the meeting by stating that he saw the event as a way to learn more about existing security measures and how to prevent instances like the Parkland, Florida, shooting from happening.
“… after a conversation with our PTA president, I realized right away that I didn’t have an awful lot of the answers because there are many different areas that are involved. (Through this forum) we appreciate the opportunity to get information out across the board,” Kohler said. “There are 15 schools (in Lee County) that are all very different. With this, there’s not really much of an opportunity to discuss the individual schools, but I think this is a chance for us to hear what Lee County and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office can give us as a broad spectrum.”
During the meeting, Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. James McCoy, Director of Student Services Dr. Jason Wright and ESSE School Resource Officer Sgt. Dennis Harrell all addressed existing security measures, discussed generic protocols and spoke of their continued efforts to improve daily.
“I see this not as a one-and-done meeting, but a way to get a (continuous) conversation started. We’ve already made a commitment (as a school board) that we’re going to be available anywhere anytime for anybody, and I know that’s the way the sheriff’s office works as well,” McCoy said.
Wright, responsible for coordinating and implementing school safety procedures, said he has seen progress since coming back to Lee County Schools in 2010.
“One of the things that I take the most pride in is that our safety plans have evolved from being a book on a shelf or word document on a computer to truly fluid documents and a part of our daily curriculum and operations. We look to enhance and improve constantly,” Wright said.
Harrell said he cherishes the opportunity to build lasting relationships and a strong respect for law enforcement with the students at his school.
“To become a school resource officer, we’d prefer them to have three or four years experience before they come into the school system. Most folks that sign up to be a police officer or a deputy want to be out on the street chasing bad guys,” Harrell said. “I’ve been doing (law enforcement) for 35 years, and this is by far the favorite thing I’ve done. I really love working with these kids … and looking out for them.”
Check www.lee.k12.al.us/Page/5211 for updates on future forums and dates for their regularly scheduled meetings.