Superintendents talk school shooting preparedness

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Nobody ever expects a shooting like the recent one at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Unfortunately, it can happen anywhere, which means schools need to be prepared. The Valley Times-News reached out to local superintendents to learn how their school districts prepare for the worst.

Casey Chambley, superintendent of the Chambers County School District, said he felt “devastated and heartbroken” for the victims of the Uvalde shooting, as well as “scared and worried” by the fact that a similar event could happen in Chambers County.

“Being the superintendent, you always think ‘What if?’” he said. “And what if this were my school and what if this happened to us?”

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Chambley said that nobody is prepared for an event like the shooting in Uvalde and that the best a school system can do is limit the loss of life.

“I’ve done a lot of reading on what they [Robb Elementary School] have done and implemented,” Chambley said. “They had implemented all the procedures that were needed. They had hired personnel, put in safety procedures, cameras, locking entry doors… They had done everything that they were supposed to do, and it didn’t prevent it.”

He said that a “cold, hard” truth about mass shootings is that they’re very difficult to stop from happening.

“If evil wants to do something, you can’t stop evil,” he said. “You can’t stop somebody that wants to cause harm. What you can hope to do is you can hope that you can prevent it or slow it down or stop it from causing so much damage once it gets there.”

Chambley said the school district put its current safety protocol in place about seven years ago when he was the safety coordinator.

CCSD’s lowest, yellow safety code is “heightened awareness.” With heightened awareness, faculty, staff and students are made aware of a potential threat, which doesn’t have to be a person. Chambley said the threat could be weather or a medical emergency.

CCSD’s mid-level, orange safety code is “secure your area” or “secure your perimeter.” At this level, doors are locked and teachers keep their students in their classrooms. At this level of threat, teachers keep teaching.

Chambley gave the example of a student getting attacked by a dog a couple of years ago at Valley High School. A helicopter had to land behind the school. The school went into “secure your area” mode so that students wouldn’t go to look at the scene or block emergency vehicles. He also said a school might go into “secure your area” if a robbery is committed nearby.

Chambley stressed that “secure your area” isn’t the same as going into lockdown.

“We do not go into lockdown unless the threat is imminent and it’s right there in our face,” he said. “We don’t use that word. We don’t like using that word because we don’t want it to be used loosely. When the word, “lockdown,” is used, we want everybody to know it’s the real thing. It’s not a drill, there’s somebody and something on campus trying to hurt us, trying to hurt you.”

Chambley said that during an active shooter or intruder situation, the Chambers County School district has a “hide, run, fight” system.

“If the activity’s taking place very close to you, you want to hide,” he said. “But if the activity’s taking place and you have information that it’s far away from you and you can exit, you exit.”

Chambley said “fight” is reserved for situations in which hiding or running from an intruder are impossible.

When there is an active shooter or intruder situation, teachers and students in the CCSD go into survival mode. They barricade doors and teachers don’t teach.

“If they’re in a run mode to where they’re out on a playground or somewhere else, then the teacher will run with their kids, and they will flee to a safe location,” he said.

Chambley said the City of LaFayette, City of Valley and Chambers County Sheriff’s Office help the CCSD with its school resource officer program.

“Having those people on campus and visible, they’re our best protection because they can eliminate threats faster,” he said. “And so, the only thing that you can do is hope that your plan can get your people to safety and eliminate as much of the damage in a timely fashion as you can.”

Chambley said the CCSD’s school resource officers don’t always stay on campus and that the CCSD doesn’t have 11 of them for its 11 campuses. He argued that CCSD’s new school consolidation plan will help make its safety resources aren’t spread so thinly.

“Some of our SROs have to go between schools at different times, and they handle different locations,” he said.

Chambley said the CCSD uses a communication tool called Share911 that allow teachers to receive alerts and report if any children are missing or injured. He said the CCSD was the first school district in Alabama to use the platform.

Additionally, he said schools have recently put up stronger doors and upgraded their camera systems. Elementary schools are locked and visitors have to be let in.

He said officers from the City of Valley, City of LaFayette and Chambers County Sheriff’s Office are allowed to visit schools and make themselves familiar with them.

Chambley said the CCSD’s merger plan will allow the school district to make schools safer not only by improving the ratio of school resource officers to schools but by improving buildings.

“Schools that were built in the 1950s and 60s were not built with these types of things in mind,” he said. “When we build new buildings and do renovations, school safety is one of the biggest components that’s thought about.”

Jennifer Boyd, superintendent of Lanett City Schools, described the tragedy in Uvalde as “extremely heartbreaking, to say the least.” She said safety is always a top priority for LCS and that effective violence prevention programs are the school system’s preferred way to maintain safe and positive learning environments.

“We have a very active safety team that participates in training throughout the year to ensure that our district implements the most effective strategies into our everyday practices,” she said. “Our emergency operations plan gives way to ongoing training for students and staff on the general practices and procedures that should be routinely followed. Students and staff also participate in drills and training so that they are adequately prepared to respond in the case of an intruder situation as experienced at Robb Elementary. Our district continues to make every effort to provide a safe learning environment for all.”

Boyd said the school-level safety team includes teachers, administrators and support staff members while its district-level safety team also includes school resource officers, emergency personnel and others.

“Informally, all students and staff are a part of our safety team as we train and encourage everyone to remain safety conscious,” she said.

Boyd said that state guidelines require that LCS perform a minimum of two “intruder type” drills each year.

“Drills are taken seriously and require that students and staff respond as if they are in an active intruder type situation,” she said.

Boyd said she’s very thankful for the attentiveness and dedication of LCS’s school resource officers.

“They take great strides to keep our campuses safe,” she said. “Through the support of the City of Lanett, we were very fortunate to be able to add another SRO this year.”

She said that as a preventative component of LCS’s emergency operations plan, “students and staff are taught everyday routines, policies, and procedures that should be practiced to ensure the safety of all.”

“They also learn and practice the steps that should be taken in the case of an intruder or active shooter type situation so that they are adequately prepared to respond,” she said.