As schools made plans to let out for the Christmas holiday, extra law enforcement and improved security measures were visible around St. Clair County.
The impetus was less about the holiday and more about the hovering shadow of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman killed 27 people, including himself — 20 of his victims were elementary age children.
St. Clair Schools Superintendent Jenny Seals said that hearts were heavy Monday morning.
“It is very important for parents to know their children are safe when they are at school,” Seals said. “We take a look at our safety plans each year, but I have asked all principals to revisit their safety plans now to make sure they have everything in place.”
Seals said she has asked each school to go through their intruder drill.
Seals also said she has been in contact with St. Clair County Sheriff Terry Surles, the mayors and most all police chiefs in the different municipalities.
“We have security personnel in all of our schools the rest of this week which will take us to the Christmas holiday break,” Seals said. “We just feel it will be good to have someone there at the schools. We hope it will give our staff, our parents and our students a sense of peace that officers are there.
“We want to deter anything that could happen in case of copycats. I have asked all principals to lock all doors during this time. We will do everything we can to make our students safe.”
Michael Barber, assistant superintendent for Pell City schools, said there was a heightened presence of law enforcement officers at local schools in light of last week’s tragic shooting.
“What we don’t want to do is to have kids coming to school under armed guard,” Barber said.
Barber said each school has a plan to address emergencies of all types. He did not wish to provide specifics of emergency plans for each individual school.
“We hope we never have to carryout those plans,” he said. “We have been talking to law enforcement, and we have also spoken to our administrators. We have plans in place and our principals and teachers are aware of them.”
Some schools in St. Clair County have a security buzzer at the front door, which remains locked. A visitor has to be buzzed in by someone in the front office before entering.
However, some of the schools in the county do not have that and visitors can walk right in.
“We want to be proactive by adding more safety measures,” Seals said. “We have been processing that and trying to get that in place at all of our schools.”
Law enforcement agencies from around the county visited Moody Middle School during the summer to train for such an event. Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt said the training must remain current to be of value.
“You can’t just do it one time and never do it again,” said Hunt. “We have to repeat it to make sure the plans are current and we know what to if that ever happens.”
Hunt met with principals in Moody and said his department will plan further exercises.
“We’re going to look at some other areas to do as well, some other scenarios, to get the principals and teachers on board, for what to do if we were to have an active shooter,” he said. “Having to see that horrible scene they (the police) saw, nobody ever wants anything like that to happen. We just have to train and stay on top of what we need to do, if the situation was to ever arise in this area.”
Barber said tragedies like the Connecticut school shooting are hard to comprehend.
“You think about what would you do if it happened here,” he said. “Our school system has numerous safety pans in place. We try to anticipate any situation, whether it’s a natural disaster or a human-caused tragedy.
“We do practice drills at the schools, and our nurses and local law enforcement officers are part of these plans. The safety of our children comes first.”