In the wake of recent incidents involving violence between students and weapons brought onto school property, Superintendent Martha Peek is confident the administrators and security staff employed by Mobile County Schools can and do keep students safe.
Concerns about safety in the state’s largest public school district came to a head last week when a student at Vigor High School in Prichard was shot in the school’s parking lot after classes were dismissed Oct. 11.
Struck in the abdomen by a single shot, the victim is expected to fully recover, but 16-year-old Marquis Love is now facing an attempted murder charge as an adult for the attack, the motive of which has not been confirmed by the Prichard Police Department.
Love was not a Vigor student and the shooting happened after classes had been dismissed, but Peek said the plans to deal with the aftermath of that type of situation were still followed. According to Peek, MCPSS already has a system-wide security plan in effect, and additionally each of its more than 80 schools has its own individual plan for various emergency situations.“We work in collaboration with all law enforcement agencies … primarily with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, but also with whichever municipality a school is located in, and they’re all aware of those plans,” Peek told Lagniappe last week. “People always ask, ‘Are you going to change something?’ No … we want to keep our good plans in place that everyone already knows so that we can be consistent.”
School officials didn’t get into too many details about the system’s approach to security, but MCPSS spokeswoman Rena Philips did say each of the school’s 13 feeder patterns has its own designed school resource officer (SRO) — many of whom are former police officers.
Those officers maintain offices on high school campuses associated with those feeder patterns because, according to Peek, “there is more activity there.” However, the officers also respond to the middle and elementary schools within their respective feeder patterns as needed.
While emergency situations have been reported at MCPSS schools for younger students, just last month the SRO for the Blount High School feeder pattern had to get involved after a student at Scarborough Middle School reportedly brought a gun onto a Mobile County school bus. That student, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, was arrested and charged with menacing.
“When we have situations where someone brings a gun to school or makes a threat on campus, it just reminds us that we all have to be vigilant in immediately reporting anything,” Peek said. “Even if it’s just a suspicion, we always follow up on those reports.”
As for the schools themselves, Peek said MCPSS is continuing to install “secure entrances” at all its schools requiring a staff member to “buzz someone in” in order for them to enter the facility.
Though the federal government made some funds available for similar renovations in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Peek said the local system is funding its own secure entrances through its capital improvement program. She said all of the system’s elementary schools already have the feature, though MCPSS is adding them in other schools.
Another asset to school security is the use of video camera monitoring. According to Peek, security cameras cover “every inch” of the district’s facilities with the exception of restrooms, and some MCPSS schools also participate in Project Shield. Launched by the Mobile Police Department last year, Project Shield is a voluntary program allowing police to access real-time security camera footage remotely from participating businesses and schools.
“We have multiple cameras in our elementary, middle and high schools. Those cameras are monitored all day, every day, which is a responsibility that’s shared by the administrative staff and then also by the resource officers on that campus,” she added. “So, anything that takes place is not only viewed by people in real time but also recorded so we also have tape of it.”
However, one of the more recent high-profile security concerns happened in an area where there were no cameras — a restroom at Baker High School. There, on Sept. 27, 17-year-old Calvin Clifton allegedly assaulted another student after an argument.
Court records indicate Clifton struck a another student in the head from behind, causing him to fall to the floor, hit their head and have a seizure. Clifton is currently facing charges for second-degree assault related to the incident.
Though there’s no way to record or monitor students in an area like a restroom, Peek said part of their approach to security includes having students look for and quickly report any potentially dangerous situation to their school’s administrators or resource officers.
“That’s something that the students know to do because it’s part of the safety plan,” she said. “If they’ve seen anything or even if they know of something occurring outside of school that might come onto a school campus, they know to go to a staff member on campus immediately.”