|Mar 04, 2013|
Last Thursday night Atlanta Public Schools had a meeting at Grady High School to discuss the shooting incident that took place on its campus Wedensday morning. I attended the meeting. My opinion is Atlanta Public Schools is not acting urgently enough, is not being vigilant enough, and is not communicating with the community enough on how it intends to make schools safe.
Students are in harm's way. I am compelled to voice my opinion to raise awareness of the issues at hand so that the Atlanta Public Schools will rapidly take action to correct their policies and procedures. If what is transpiring at Grady were widely known the public might come to the conclusion that given the circumstances there has been a failure to exercise reasonable care by the school administration. My intent is to motivate Atlanta Public Schools to act with more urgency to protect students.
Before I go on I must add that what I am about to say is not reflective of the quality students, teachers, and parents that make Grady one of the top public high schools not only in the city of Atlanta but the state of Georgia. Its debate, journalism, and robotics programs are renowned. These people deserve more than what they are getting from the Atlanta Public Schools system.
I also want to commend the teachers for their reaction the day of the shooting. They acted swiftly. They let students use cell phones (counter to official Atlanta Public School policy). Because I was able to speak with my daughter via cell phone I knew what she was unharmed. She was also able to search news sites to learn what was going on, and I was able to communicate to her that she was safe. It seems that most teachers made the decision to let students use their mobile phones to contact their parents. Bravo.
Back to the Thursday night town hall type meeting. It was called by Atlanta Public Schools and held at the Grady High School auditorium. Associate superintendent Steve Smith led the meeting. Grady principal Vincent Murray, Atlanta Public Schools security chief Marquenta Sands, and regional K-12 executive director David White made opening statements that lasted for about 30 minutes. Student body president Lauren Alford was also on the dais.
I was initially extremely impressed with what these administrators were saying. "The safety of our students" is of utmost importance. "What happened yesterday was unacceptable." "We are not here to sweep anything under the rug." Ms. Sands talked a lot about "gaps" in the security process. Then she made a statement that they were not going to talk about plans to fix the security issues at the school. The sole reason why over 100 people showed up was to learn what Atlanta Public Schools was going to do to keep students safe and they were not going to address it. That is one big rug and broom.
Fortunately anyone that is smart enough to make it through at least nine years of schooling is smart enough to see the gaps in Atlanta Public Schools security policy at Grady High School. And it was time for the Grady community to speak. This is what I took away from that conversation.
Gap 1: Grady is an open campus.
Grady High School is an open campus. It is not a monolithic building but five buildings linked together by walkways and courtyards. The ability to secure the entire campus is challenging if not impossible. If someone wanted to go on campus to do harm they could do so with relative ease.
Gap 2: Security measures only in main building.
If you are a non bus-riding student (bus riders have to enter via the main building) with a class that is not in the main building (technically buildings C & E which are connected internally) there are no security measures. Students with first period classes in the auditorium, Black Box Theatre, music hall, new gym, old gym, or god forbid a trailer, do not have to go through any security measures. To use an analogy it is somewhat akin to having security only at the main terminal at Hartsfield airport but leaving the access to terminal T unsecured.
Much has been made about the shooter skirting school security because two students opened a gym door for her. It is my understanding that she could have just walked in the gym unaided at anytime via an unlocked door with no metal detector on it. There is nothing to stop anyone from bringing a weapon to school if they have classes in a remote building. When directly asked if a metal detector had been installed in the gym since the incident Ms. Sands replied "no." When asked when one would be she did not respond. When asked if any charges would be brought against the two students that aided the shooter she did not respond. Makes you question her "the time table is now" statement.
Update 3/5/13: Students were required to go through the main building today to enter auditorium and music hall.
Update 3/6/13: Turned first period into home room to force most students through main building.
Gap 3: Security measures stop when school starts.
The teachers are responsible for implementing morning security. Once they do this they go to teach class. If a student has a first period class in a remote building by the time that class is over security has been turned off. If such a student were so inclined they would be free to roam the entire campus with a weapon.
Gap 4: Backpacks and purses do not go through security.
Students are required to go through metal detectors. Their backpacks and purses are not scanned. These bags are supposed to be properly hand searched, but many parents, including this one, are being told by their offspring that this is not happening. Mr. White made a comment that unbeknownst to him the school must not be following proper procedure. Grady High School is not following proper procedure and according to the students that I interact with on a regular basis "nothing has changed" since the shooting.
Update 3/4/13: I learned today that a change was made where bags are currently being properly searched. ROTC leader is currently overseeing bag searches.
Gap 5: Teachers are not trained security professionals.
Good grief, what would they even do if they found a weapon? Teachers need to be preparing for the school day. They need to be teaching. They are currently arriving to first period classes as much as 30 minutes after class starts. Trained professionals are needed during security check in. Superintendent Davis has stated that he would rather have school resource officers elsewhere. I honestly don't understand what they could possibly be doing that is more important then ensuring a student does not bring a weapon on campus.
Gap 6: Education.
There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on this at the meeting. Providing methods for students to contact authorities. Maybe things have changed since I was in high school but it was pretty uncommon back then to report illegal activity to the school administration or police. But I will play along in good faith. Students can report potential illegal activity to the Atlanta Public Schools tip line at 877-801-7754 or to Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.
Gap 7: Holes in lockdown procedures.
My daughter had a substitute teacher the day of the shooting. The sub did not have a key to the door of the trailer. They were locked down without a lock. Anyone could have opened the door and walked right in. During a hard lock down. Imagine if something evil instead of careless was taking place. Imagine that you are a kid in a trailer with an unlocked door during a hard lock down because a gun had been shot on your school campus. Imagine that you are so afraid that you are trying to hide under a desk. Unacceptable indeed.
Gap 8: Communications
A number of parents at the meeting indicated that they did not receive any communication about the incident even though they received normal communications from Atlanta Public Schools. Neither my wife nor myself received any communications from Atlanta Public Schools on the day of the incident. We have not received any communications from Atlanta Public Schools since the day of the incident.
With all that said the highlight of the night for me came from a student toward the end of a meeting. A female freshman pleading for the administration and teachers to address the emotional trauma this whole affair has brought on the student body.
"This is a real life problem, that is a grown up problem that we are dealing with as kids."
This is our problem. Our communities deserve safe schools. The shooting incidents at Price Middle School and Grady High School (there have been two shootings within a month) demonstrate that Atlanta Public Schools is failing to provide safe schools.
Atlanta Public Schools needs to communicate what it plans to do to keep our schools safe and not hide behind the cloak of not going into details for safety reasons. If some outsider wants to do harm at a school it cannot be prevented. What can be prevented are students carrying weapons on campus. The community deserves to know what is being done to prevent this before the next incident fatally harms an innocent.
I urge you to spread the word on what is transpiring at Grady High School and Atlanta Public Schools in any manner you see fit. I urge you to demand accountability and action by Atlanta Public Schools. They are not doing everything they can to protect our children. This must change.Posted in Current Affairs, Personal Tweet