MESSAGE FROM DR. APRIL HOWARD,
The faculty and staff of the Jackson County School System work every day to provide a safe and caring learning environment for all students so they can benefit from a challenging and rigorous educational experience.
The conversation about school safety continues in our community and across the country. I want to let you know what we have done and are doing to ensure student safety.
- We secured the front entrances of all our schools. We built secure entries that require a two-step entry process. We purchased camera- and microphone-equipped buzzer systems that let us screen all visitors. To further enhance security, we are evaluating other access points in our buildings for keyless entry systems.
- We invested a half-million dollars in high-grade Avigilon video camera systems at every school. They provide multiple, real-time views of our campuses.
- We purchased and installed the Raptor Visitor Management System at every school. Raptor lets us screen out registered sex offenders and add alerts for people whose presence in a school might be a cause for concern. At the same time, we worked with deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to train front-office staff. They are now better prepared to handle front-office emergencies and conflicts.
- We expanded our badging system. All our staff, including bus drivers, now have ID badges. Wearing your visitor badge helps our staff know you checked in through the front office.
- We purchased emergency radios for school and district leaders that tie in directly to the 911 Emergency Management Services system. This expands the capability for rapid response already provided by each school’s existing radio network. We coordinated the purchase and set up with Jackson County EMS to be sure the radios were compatible with first responders.
- We employ full-time School Resource Officers through a partnership with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Our SROs and Sheriff Janis Mangum devote many resources to building good relationships with our students. They offer the C.H.A.M.P.S. (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) program, established 15 years ago by the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, for all our fifth-grade students every year.
- We recently reviewed and updated our district-wide emergency operations plan. This was done with help from local law enforcement personnel and first responders and our Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security Coordinator. GEMA has offered guidance for management and organization before a crisis occurs and preventive and post-event support across a broad range of situations.
- We reviewed our building-specific emergency response plans with all staff on Feb. 19, 2018, the most recent professional development day. We are working with local law enforcement officials and first responders to provide extensive training during the summer for all JCSS staff.
- We are working with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia State Patrol to assess security at both our high schools. They recently conducted walk-throughs focused on access, line-of-sight, and building obstruction issues. They will continue these assessments on a regular basis, offering us additional guidance and support.
We know there are questions about our students participating in the #Enough events, with the first planned for Wednesday, March 14. We will observe a moment of silence at 10 o’clock that morning across our school system. We also will provide safe locations where staff can help address student concerns. We are encouraging students to talk with their teachers about the issues and find effective ways to express themselves.
As we move through the weeks ahead, we also want to host more conversations. Community-based accountability, with safety and student benefit as our focus, will be discussed at evening meetings Thursday, August 23, at East Jackson Comprehensive High School, and Monday, August 27, at Jackson County Comprehensive High School. We hope these events will be a chance for families to come together for the benefit of all our children.
More important than all these efforts, though, will be continuing to develop strong relationships in our community. We hope parents, students, and staff will have a sense of ownership and be advocates for safety. We all must feel comfortable and committed to sharing information and concerns with one another.