Calhoun County schools to review safety and security plans
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Jan 24, 2013 | 5743 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pleasant Valley High School's resource officer, Ross McGlaughn, right, talks with Principal Mark Proper at the school Thursday afternoon. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Pleasant Valley High School's resource officer, Ross McGlaughn, right, talks with Principal Mark Proper at the school Thursday afternoon. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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Calhoun County Schools and the Sheriff’s Office are joining to evaluate local school safety plans, a move prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, officials said Thursday.

The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and the schools system are establishing a task force that will meet in two weeks to begin the evaluation process, schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said at a school board meeting Thursday. He added that the Sandy Hook tragedy prompted school administrators to “go back and refocus” on school safety.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson spoke to a small crowd of educators at the meeting about his agency’s plans to evaluate the school system’s safety strategies. He stressed that the school safety evaluations are part of an ongoing relationship his office has with the school system.

“What we want to do is to take what we have and see what we can do to make it better,” Amerson said.

Seven Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies have served as full-time officers at area schools since 1997. That’s one officer for each of the county school system’s attendance zones.

The concept of a school safety task force is not new in Calhoun County. A similar task force formed here in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, Amerson said.

That task force comprised key stakeholders and included educators and law enforcement officers. One of the original members of that task force, Mike Fincher, is now the director of safety and security for Calhoun County Schools.

Fincher and other officials said at the Thursday meeting that from those 1999 task force meetings the local non-profit agency Family Links was formed. The program, administered by the sheriff, exists to give families support outside the school environment, said Fincher, a former Anniston police officer.

By making students and their families more secure, officials help promote a more secure public environment, Fincher said.

Like the old task force, the new one will include a cross section of stakeholders, officials said Thursday. Educators, law enforcement officers and a representative of the business community will be among those asked to participate on the 30-member group, Dyar said.

“It’s the same task force,” Fincher said. “It’s just a regeneration of it.”

While stakeholders are coming together to decide which systemic changes are needed to ensure students and teachers are as safe as possible, educators are taking some practical steps to make their students feel secure.

“The best thing to do is keep a relationship with your kids,” said Angela Morgan, a science teacher at Alexandria High School. “You can’t secure every school building, but you can help your kids feel wanted at school.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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