Odenville Police Chief Adam Pardue said he used to think the elementary, intermediate and middle schools in Odenville have a “pretty good” safety system in place, with buzzers at the front door.
“I get upset at times myself, because I can’t even get in up there,” Pardue said. “But that’s a good thing, but when something happens like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it makes me appreciate that it is hard to get in those three schools.”
In the wake of the December tragedy at Sandy Hook — where a gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children — school officials around the county, the state and the nation are discussing safety measures. Pardue said St. Clair County High School causes him the greatest concern.
“I realize they have a resource officer on campus, but that is only one man,” Pardue said. “There are several doors that can be accessed as an entrance. You can walk in the front door of that campus, and never be seen.
“Every school in this county should have the buzzer system on the front door like our three schools for the younger grades do. Somebody has to physically look out and see who it is before they unlock the door and let them in. There is no reason every school in this county should not have a buzzer system in place.”
Pardue said there is an office on the left near the SCCHS entrance, but personnel in the office cannot see who comes in or goes out.
“Someone entering wanting to do harm is not going to walk in slowly, they are coming in fast and get down the hallway,” Pardue said.
Discovery of a gun on a student this year at St. Clair County High School has prompted Pardue to call for the installation of a metal detector at the front entrance of the school.
“There needs to be one entrance and one exit at that school,” Pardue said. “It is obvious the high school is not as safe as it should be if a gun ended up in that school. Something needs to be done.
“I feel like it is going to take an incident like the one in Connecticut before our officials in this county are willing to spend the money to keep our schools safe. The heck with building athletic facilities. Let’s take that money and make our schools safer. We should do everything in our power to make these schools safer, and I don’t feel like it is being done.”
Ragland Police Chief James “Bubba” Brown said he believes students at Ragland are safe, but security measures do need improving.
“There is not a buzzer system at either one of the school buildings,” Brown said. “People have easy entrance access to either school. The elementary school has started locking its front entrance and has a sign on the door to please knock.”
Brown said right after the incident at the school in Sandy Hook, an officer stayed in the school at all times for a week until Christmas holidays.
“Since the students have returned from the Christmas break, we are not up there all the time,” Brown said. “We are in and out. Even before the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we were always driving by on a regular basis. We are really not doing anything different than we were doing.
Brown said a buzzer system would be appropriate in Ragland.
“The more security we have in place at the entrance, will prevent someone from getting in the schools,” Brown said. “Revenue is the big holdup. But I can’t put a price on my child. We have to protect these children.”
Ashville Police Chief Dennis Matthews said Ashville High School is safe.
“But, I also feel like there is room for improvement,” Matthews said. “You cannot ever guarantee anything 100 percent. There are certain steps, in my opinion, that could be taken to make it better.”
Ashville Elementary School has a buzzer system at its entrance, but the middle and high school do not. An officer was present at the three campuses in Ashville the week before Christmas holidays, just days after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Once school started back in 2013, an officer is not present at all times.
“Whatever the school system wants us to do to assist them, we will be glad to help,” Matthews said.
Matthews said medal detectors are fine, but it is going to cost money, and will require an operator.
“It all comes down to money,” Matthews said. “Somebody has to be there who is competent to run it, and then take action if they find something. It all boils down to money and funds.”
St. Clair Schools Superintendent Jenny Seals said she has met with all the principals.
“I have asked them to meet with their faculty and staff to go over their safety plan,” Seals said. “I want to make sure that they know what to do in the lunchroom, in the classroom, in the gym, in the bathroom, etc. I want them to go over their intruder drills.”
Seals said she wants to meet with city officials and law enforcement and make sure they have what they need for first response teams that come in.
“We are replacing some of our doors and windows at various schools,” Seals said. “We want to do everything to make sure our children are safe. We are looking at putting the buzzer system or an entrance system in at all schools, and hope to have that in place before the end of the school year.”
There are School Resource Officers at schools in Odenville and Moody. The two officers at the Odenville schools were provided through a Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. It was a partnership between the St. Clair Board of Education and the St. Clair County Commission.
Seals said the SRO at the Moody schools is funded by the city of Moody.
“It would be wonderful to have an SRO in every school building,” Seals said. “And I have expressed my concerns to the state legislature.”
Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt said his officers have gone through procedural meetings with school officials in his city.
“We were able to get with (Moody Elementary principal) Kathy Tice and do some training in December before the kids came back (for the spring semester),” Hunt said. “We’ve gotten some good response out of it.”
Hunt said a video available on YouTube — “Run, Fight, Hide” — details some of the procedures local officials are implementing.
“Unfortunately, it takes an event like (Sandy Hook) to see that something like this can happen in our small town,” Hunt said. “I think people are more concerned now than they ever have been.”
In Springville, Mayor William Isley said his administration is currently conferring with other cities to discuss whether an officer would be financially feasible for the schools in his city.
“We are waiting on the BOE’s response,” he said Tuesday. “We need their input so we can make a decision on how to provide an SRO, if it’s possible.”
Leeds Police Chief Byron Jackson has met with faculty at all three of the city’s schools detailing procedures for such a situation. The city has one resource officer who divides his time between all three schools, and the system has planed a drill for this month.
“These are terrible things to have to think about,” Jackson told the teachers. “But if we don’t think about them, we could have something that’s much worse (than Sandy Hook).”