On the heels of a deadly school shooting in Birmingham yesterday, Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler unveiled a security plan for the district’s 46 campuses at a news conference this morning.
Though it was planned last week, the details of the security plan came to light not 24 hours after an “accidental shooting” at Huffman High School in Birmingham that killed 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington.
Police have not released the name of the second victim or identified a “person of interest” detained in connection with the shooting.
Though the incident at Huffman High hits close to home for Alabamians, school security has been on the minds of school administrators throughout the country since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 and wounded 16 others.
At the core of Tyler’s plan would be heightened security at the entrances and exits of its facilities, which he said would help by creating “single points of entry” for all schools and prohibiting visitors from entering and exiting schools at will.
Tyler admitted the changes could be inconvenient for parents and students, including limiting access to the schools and common areas. However, he said security has to be a priority due to the potential threats schools face today.“The days of the one minute in and out to drop off a book or cupcake are no more,” he said. “We always thought our campuses would be a place where people could come and get an education and not have to worry about the outside world, but the outside world has come to our schools.”
In addition to physically securing its facilities, Tyler said the district intends to work with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police forces throughout the county to staff each and every campus with a full-time school resource officer (SRO). Currently, only high schools have a full-time officer.
According to BCPS Spokesperson Terry Wilhite, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office supplies some resource officers to schools. Others are employed by local municipalities within the county.
“They are full-fledged law enforcement officers trained to be School Resource Officers,” he said. “The school system does not employ any school resource officers.”
Current state law does not allow school employees to be armed, which is why resource officers in the Mobile County Public School System — employed directly by the school board — cannot be armed on any school campus.
Smaller additions will include things like panic buttons for each school office that would be tied into the local 911 system as well as an increase in the number and quality of cameras used to monitor entrances to schools.
Tyler said the administration would also continue to take any and all threats seriously. Last month, an 8th grader from Foley Middle School was charged with “making a terroristic threat” for comments about “shooting up” his school.
“The days of being goofy about violence are over. It’s not funny anymore,” he said Thursday, adding that law enforcement was behind him. “There will continue to be a level of discipline that will go with being goofy.”
Tyler was joined at a press conference by Sheriff Hoss Mack, County Commissioner Chris Elliott and some of the county’s mayors — all of whom have met and, according to Tyler, are on the same page about making schools throughout the area as safe as possible.
Mack said his office and municipal police forces were fully supportive of full-time SROs not only so they can quickly respond when needed, but also to build relationships and understanding throughout the year.
“These officers have interactions with students, teachers with custodians: They learn the environment and physical plan,” Mack said. “Intervention is the best prevention, and they create an opportunity where we go in and establish those relationships.”
As far as funding these new initiatives, Tyler said the system’s financial staff had identified some funding within the budget but said a bill introduced by State Sen. Trip Pittman (R, Fairhope) that would allow the Education Advancement and Technology Fund to be used for school security would likely be very helpful, if passed.
Mack said the effort of securing schools is challenging, but Baldwin County was fortunate to already have safety plans in its schools. However, he also said schools are just one of the places where the threat of violence can present a challenge for law enforcement.
“Two days ago we faced a challenge in a trailer park,” he said referring to armed standoff his deputies were involved earlier this week. “It’s dynamic, and yes it affects our school campuses, but it’s a challenge that we’ll meet. What we’re doing in Baldwin County is more progressive than other areas across this state. We’re fortunate to be in front of these issues.”