Safety evaluations to be completed in county schools
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – The Perry County school board held a lengthy discussion on school safety during a meeting in Hazard last week, which officials say should eventually result in a safer school district.
Larry Caudill, a parent and member of the site-based council at R.W. Combs Elementary, presented to the board a request for funding to upgrade the school’s security system. The council at R.W. Combs recently received an estimate for $4,500 that would include new safety upgrades at the school such as magnetic locks on the outside doors and monitors at the receptionist’s desk.
Some changes at the school have already been made, Caudill added, such as visitor identification badges and new protocols for entering and leaving a classroom. But in light of the recent school shooting in Connecticut, and then a triple shooting here at the Hazard college apparently stemming from a domestic dispute, Caudill said school safety has been chief on the minds of parents.
“We’re doing the best that we can with what we’ve got, but we need more,” Caudill said, adding that purchasing these upgrades could also go a long way in purchasing peace of mind for parents. “Every day you’re worrying about what’s going to happen, what’s going on. I think this would ease a lot of people’s minds if we were to go with this.”
Of the 11 schools in the Perry County School District, there are varying systems for school security, according to district Finance Officer Jody Maggard. Some of those variations include a camera system and magnetic doors, like at Perry Central High School, though other schools have far fewer measures in place.
District officials recently expended funds from a $300,000 grant, Maggard noted, the majority of which was spent on camera systems for the schools. And while officials have been slowly building up security these past few years, safe school funding from the state has decreased to around $19,000 per year, much of which is being used to maintain the systems already in place. And to install magnetic locks and camera systems in each school would quickly approach $100,000 or more, money the district does not have readily available, especially in light of state funding reductions due to a declining enrollment.
Completing an inventory of the systems already in place and determining what each school needs could be a more practical approach for upgrading security systems. Schools will likely have different needs, Maggard explained, and that would also give officials an opportunity to determine how the district could pay for the upgrades.
Board member Charlene Miller asked if there are any grants available for school safety, and suggested the district pursue that avenue to help offset any additional costs. Completing an inventory or needs assessment would help with grants as well, Maggard noted, because it would allow the grant writers to better tailor the district’s applications.
“What we’re talking about doing is a good first step,” he said.
Regardless, the district should move on this issue soon, Caudill told the board’s members. In light of the recent violence around the nation and here in the county, the board should do something now that shows they are focused and working on school safety for the district’s students, and not push this issue off until the next meeting or the one after that.
“We need to let them know that we’re there for them, they’re safety is first,” Caudill said.
The board’s members agreed that student safety should be their top priority, and also moved to get the process started of evaluating schools and determining what is needed to improve student safety. Though formal recommendations likely won’t be ready for the board until their next meeting scheduled for Feb. 21, the board will call a special called meeting before then if necessary.
Board member James Ritchie reiterated that the board should act quickly before something does happen in the schools that perhaps could have been avoided or prevented. “It has to be done now,” he said.
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