Even before Gov. Robert Bentley and state Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice sent out requests for schools to fly flags at half-staff after 27 people, 20 of whom were young elementary school students, were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning, Jacksonville’s flags were already marking condolences and respect for those who lost their lives.
“I thought it was the appropriate thing to do,” said Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell.
In the wake of one of the worst school shootings in the nation’s history, the national conversation has returned to matters such as gun control and school safety.
In Jacksonville, said Campbell, the schools run drills for many situations, including evacuation, shelter in place and seeking safe places in the case of severe weather. These drills, he said, are varied and include incidents such as intruders that could result in evacuation or lockdown depending on the circumstances.
And emergency policies change with the times. “Back in the early days when we started looking at these issues, we had all those code words,” he said. “Now we try to make it as simple as can be so they know what’s happening and what do to; we try to communicate it using plain language.”
Campbell noted that the district has to review and submit school safety plans to the state each year.
These plans, he said, are “something we constantly review as new things happen. Certainly, after this incident, it causes everyone to take a look and see if there’s anything else we can do to maintain a safe environment.”
For example, Campbell said, the school was placed under a tornado warning on the day that Kitty Stone was hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. “We had probably 100 visitors on campus,” he said.
“It was a situation we hadn’t thought about,” he said, “having that many visitors and where to put them.”
Campbell said administration had to make a quick decision and took them to the district’s central office for shelter in the board room.
“Certain events will make you think and reflect on things and improve,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve.”