While parents have always carefully dropped their children off at school or to the bus stop, they may now hesitate, taking one last moment to hug or kiss their child before they send him or her along the way. School employees are now more alert and aware of unusual people and sounds, and law enforcement officers and first responders are extra watchful in protecting those they serve.
Though national headlines have alarmed us, we should be reminded that school violence of this magnitude is very rare. It’s natural to question school safety in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy, but the reality is our schools are still one of the safest places a child can be, and it’s because of deliberate efforts made by our school system. It’s easy to lose sight of that as we see and hear the sad stories of young children and teachers who were lost too soon.
The fact is Fulton County Schools works continually to improve its safety measures so that students and staff members are afforded the safest learning environments possible. This was occurring before the Connecticut tragedy and it will continue every day afterward. We know learning and teaching cannot happen if students and teachers do not feel safe in their classroom.
Like many school systems, Fulton County Schools has a well-qualified internal police force with 65 officers that are specially trained to work with students and serve their unique needs. Each school also has a regularly practiced safety plan, which includes locking exterior doors and requiring visitors to sign in upon arrival and exit. In addition, comprehensive video surveillance systems help keep students and staff safe, inside the school and out, and the recently passed SPLOST sales tax is providing new technology to allow instant background checks of all volunteers.
But the truth is school safety is not limited to installing additional cameras, locking more doors or having an officer inside every school. School safety is part of our everyday activities, such as when students, teachers and staff are mindful of their surroundings and are quick to report anything unusual. It’s when safety drills – whether for fire, severe weather or intruders – are practiced throughout the year. It’s when school staff is prepared to render CPR and other life-saving aid.
It’s reasonable to desire increased security at every school, but we must find a balance between providing stronger security measures and keeping the school an engaging place that is conducive to learning and teaching. We must be diligent in our heightened awareness, yet not be hyper-vigilant to the point that we overcorrect our processes and overreact.
Our context of school safety has changed, and so must the conversation around it. Now, more than ever, our school leaders, mental health care professionals, community advocates, and political leaders must come together and focus on what is right for our children.
School safety will be strongest when it is no longer a buzz word in the media but is instead the shared focus of our entire community.
Our hearts grieve with the Sandy Hook Elementary School community. There are many lessons yet to be learned from this sad event, but some are ones we already know within our hearts.
Life can be fleeting and the future is unforeseen. As our schools shutter their doors for the winter break, please spend these precious extra days with your family. Rejoice in your traditions, create new memories, and know that your children are loved and cared for by those in the Fulton County School System.
Robert Avossa is superintendent of Fulton County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.