One of two task forces studying school security in Etowah County is planning a master plan, based on security needs.
Both task forces were formed in the wake of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 27 people dead—all but one of them in the school.
One of the Etowah County groups—the one appointed by the county commission and consisting largely of elected officials and high ranking school officials—met behind closed doors Tuesday in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Allen Millican. The group asked the media to step outside to discuss security-related issues.
After they met private, Natalie Barton, a sheriff's office spokesperson who also speaks for the group, said all three of Etowah County's school superintendents submitted risk assessments.
The three—David Bowman of Atalla City Schools, Ed Miller of Gadsden City Schools, and Alan Cosby of Etowah County Schools—say they all have plans in place. Their assessments will be used in a master plan Barton says will focus on four goals:
Still unclear is how to pay for these changes—especially the salaries and benefits of extra school resource officers.
"It's an investment into our children," said Barton, herself the mother of a small child who isn't yet school age. It's an investment into their safety, this is an investment into their teachers and the faculty and other staff members into the school. If we don't make this investment, then what we saw up in Connecticut could very easily happen somewhere here in Etowah County."
"You know, all of us are joining together for one cause and that's our children, and our children's safety," said Bowman. "The bottom line is dollars and cents, and that's been discussed alot, through the task force here and the one (state representative) Craig Ford's implemented. And we want to work hand in hand with everybody because we're all in it for the same reason."
The other group mentioned by Bowman and assembled by Ford, is different from the first task force. Ford's group consists of a cross section of the community, from elected officials to parents, teachers, even students. Both groups even have overlapping members, including the three superintendents, Sheriff Todd Entrekin and District Attorney Jimmie Harp.
Last week, Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton announced that he and Police Chief John Crane would be seeking retired law enforcement officers—anyone from former small town police officers to former FBI agents—who could work part time as school resource officers in the city's schools. The goal would be to have officers in every school at all times, with full time officers patrolling the areas on a regular basis.
The next task force meeting is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 11 a.m.
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