Meridian Star

Local News

December 23, 2012

Superintendent: Are we doing everything we can do?

MERIDIAN —     As the national debate again turns to gun control, local schools are looking at their own policies to see if, as Randy Hodges, superintendent of Lauderdale County School District asked, "Are we doing everything we can do?"

    In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, Hodges raised that question with area principals and determined that some changes are in order.

    "It makes you stop and take a look at what you are doing and ask, 'Are you doing everything in your power to protect our children?'" Hodges said.

    At a meeting with principals from throughout the district on Tuesday, Hodges said several concerns came to light that the school district will act on.

    "We evaluated everything we're doing," Hodges said. "The most effective thing we can do as a district is to have a uniformed trained law officer on every campus."

    The district already has officers on middle school and high school campuses, and at Clarkdale, where the school is K-12, but not all elementary schools have an officer. That will change, Hodges said.

    "We think that it will be very effective to have a uniformed trained person, with a weapon, on each campus," Hodges said.

    School security is a working relationship between the school district and the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, he said. Funding of school officers is shared, he added.

    Hodges also is proposing what he described as a quality monitoring system, similar to one at Mississippi State University Meridian that allows a security officer to monitor the entire building through cameras at one location.

    Other plans that came from the meeting with principals include:

    • Make sure that everyone, including custodians, cafeteria workers and office staff know the procedures for lock-down.

    • Make sure that schools that have multiple buildings have the ability to make one campus-wide announcement.

    • Add bars to all solid glass entry doorways to prevent entrance if the glass is destroyed.

    • Install dead bolt locks in each classroom.

    The district was already conducting lock-down drills and had conducted some in recent weeks, Hodges said.

    "You manage your schools, you build your foundation with the beginning being safety," Hodges said. "Everything else comes after that. We have emphasized that but now we've had to go back and reevaluate because it has our attention."

    Dr. Alvin Taylor, superintendent of education, Meridian Public School District, said when he went to work for MPSD in July 2011, there was only one school resource officer (SRO) from the MPSD. SROs are certified law enforcement officers trained at the state police academy.

    "Since safe and orderly schools are our number one priority, we now have four SROs," Taylor said. "We have one SRO at Marion Park, one SRO at Meridian High, one SRO that floats for the middle schools, and one SRO that floats the whole district including, the elementary schools."

    The district also has 11 school security officers and is hoping to add one or two more in the next year, Taylor said.

    "We want to continue to increase our security force to ensure that all of our schools are adequately covered at all times, and the horrific events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary remind us of just how important that is," Taylor said.

    In an online message to parents, guardians, and community members, Taylor offered the district's condolences to the Newtown, Conn., community and said there is nothing that can prepare a community for such a tragedy.

    "Our prayers go out to those children and staff that lost their lives, the parents, and the community," Taylor wrote. "As you know, providing safe and orderly schools is the number one priority in the Meridian Public School District, and I want to assure you that we are doing everything humanly possible to make sure that your children are safe in our schools. Every school is required to conduct safety drills and lock-downs on a regular basis to ensure we are prepared should a crisis situation arise."

    As families all over the U.S. struggle to find ways to cope with the tragedy and answer questions from small children, Hodges had some advice for parents.

    "I think they need to emphasize that good will win over evil. Good teachers, good principals, good law enforcement officers will protect them," Hodges said. "There's a lot of bad things happening around us, but good people will protect them. That's the message that we think is important for them to understand."

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