CONYERS -- School Resource Officers are expected to patrol Rockdale County elementary schools more often, after a devastating and fatal elementary school shooting in Connecticut last month.
Garrett Brundage, executive director of Support Services for RCPS, reported to the Rockdale County Board of Education last month that currently, SROs are stationed at each middle and high school in the county; they also are assigned to an elementary school, but they usually go there only in the event of an emergency.
"We want to change that -- we saw a need," Brundage said, adding that anytime a situation like a shooting or similar event arises, his department is afraid of nationwide copycat crimes.
He said that the system has suggested and the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office agreed to more frequent patrols for each elementary school, especially in the mornings, when an officer can visit the school on the way to their assigned middle or high schools since the lower grades begin the school day earlier.
RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry said the system's No. 1 priority is making sure students, faculty and staff are safe, and that parents are entrusting schools to protect their most precious commodity -- their children.
"It makes you reflect a bit when these things happen," Autry said of the Connecticut shooting.
He added that schools have frequent lockdowns and often practice evacuations.
Brundage reported that the system and each school have a school safety plan and flip charts in each classroom regarding how to handle emergencies. In 2009, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency performed safety assessments on each RCPS building and trained school personnel, and the Georgia Department of Education is scheduling dates to conduct safety assessments for all schools and will provide a report with recommendations.
Autry said that he and his staff still are uncomfortable holding a drill for an active shooter, but they are in discussions with local law enforcement to seek advice on how to handle the situation.
Recently, RCPS staff met with new Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett and Chief Deputy Scott Freeman to discuss how they can partner and better help each other.
"I still felt a strength of partnership with the new sheriff, as I did with the old (Sheriff Jeff Wigington)," Autry reported to the board.
RCPS also continues to hold school safety scenarios, like weather-related and student-related ones, at monthly meetings with principals, who later review them with their faculty and staff, Brundage said. Additionally, school employees are to remain attentive to their surroundings and be aware of visitors in and around school campuses.
Former school board member Jean Yontz also was present at the meeting, and reported to the board that she recently visited Conyers Middle School to speak to a class, and even though the front office staff knew who she was, made her return to her vehicle to retrieve her identification in order to enter the building and also escorted her to the classroom she was visiting.
Brundage added that his department is researching other forms of access control, like buzz-in or key pad systems, and also is researching opportunities to enhance camera systems.
His department also is discussing sustainability efforts for school-based mental health services, which has served more than 350 students in the past couple of years through a Safe Schools Healthy Students grant.