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Metro Atlanta schools step up security after Conn. shooting

1:35 AM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- Parents seemed pleased to see police officers patrolling area schools on Monday.  But the state warns police are only one in a list of nearly 100 items schools should consider in its overall safety plan.

Most districts throughout metro Atlanta say they'll team up with their local police department to create a visible law enforcement presence until the holiday break.

Gwinnett is going as far as arming every one of its 102 schools with an officer.

The decision follows the mass shooting Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut that left 20 children and 6 adults dead. The majority of victims were children ages 6 and 7.

According to Sgt. Brian Doan, an officer will be staffed at all 102 school campuses.

"We want to calm students and let them know that they are safe. This is a proactive step and something we do to make sure that there are no copy cat incidents and that the schools are secure," said Doan.

Every school district in metro Atlanta told 11Alive it would review its safety plan this week to check for weaknesses.  The state has also offered to audit the plans at the school's request.

Garry McGiboney, the Associate Superintendent of Policy for Georgia's Department of Education, says the most common mistake isn't about gadgets or policy. It's about practice.   Schools too often forget to practice the plan they worked so hard to create.

After Columbine, every school was required to develop a safety plan on how to evacuate the building or lockdown a classroom. But beyond that, it's up to each school or district to decide whether to have security cameras, onsite officers, or even which doors to lock. 

"We encourage schools to have the perimeter, all outdoor doors locked so there have limited access to the building. All visitors would have to come through the front," said McGiboney.

Some schools are even looking now at locking each classroom door as well.   The state's safety assessment challenges districts to consider everything from evacuation routes and lighting to emergency vehicle access and property maintenance. 

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In DeKalb County, resource officers are used in all high schools and middle schools.  Some pull double duty when they're called to elementary schools if needed.

According to spokesperson Lillian Govus, there are no immediate plans to change or alter individual security plans but said discussions are likely in the coming weeks.

"We feel that our schools are pretty secure now with resource officers, locked doors between the pick up and drop off times and security cameras to see who is asking to be let in," said Govus.

In a letter sent to parents, Superintendent of Decatur City Schools, Dr. Phyllis Edwards, said:

"Principals and I will meet together to review several safety topics this Monday, and adjust any plans as needed. We will also ask that you help us by following the procedures and ensuring that others do as well. In times like these, it is important that we follow our normal routines as this will convey as sense of calm and security to the children."

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