Douglas County Schools Superintendent Trent North said that while the school system is on heightened alert following Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and many others injured, he doesn’t want school system to overreact, but to always be precautionary.
According to news reports, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was charged on Thursday with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the students and families of Broward County in this tragic time of grief and sorrow,” said North. “Please know that safety is always of the utmost importance to our school system family.”
North added: “While no one can predict what might happen, we try to always be prepared for unexpected events. We are certainly on heightened alert at this time and know that our close relationship with law enforcement officials and the drills we have implemented over the years are significant to offering a safe, supportive environment.
“The most important thing to me as superintendent — more than educating them — is to get students back home to their parents. I don’t think people understand the burden on the superintendent and principals to keep our students safe. We take that very seriously. No superintendent and principal wants to spend the rest of their life wondering what they could have done differently.”
He said school officials have no reason at this time to think an incident would occur here.
“One thing is to always be on the defensive, using the good protocols we have in place,” North said. “Whenever an incident such as this occurs, there is a potential for a copy cat, someone who wants to be in the spotlight. We are asking our School Resource Officers for additional patrol and that our principals are outside their offices more and being more visible.”
“Anytime there’s one of these incidents,” said Douglasville Police Capt. Brad Stafford, “we always up our patrol, our visibility for some amount of time after that to make everybody feel a little bit more safer. Also, sometimes there are people that see this on TV and you know they might be thinking about maybe they would do that. So we always just try to have a greater presence in our schools after one of these.”
Despite the immediate increased officer presence at schools after shootings, DPD, doesn’t expect to change its plan for potential mass shootings in the near future, according to Stafford. DPD has resource officers in schools within the city limits while the Douglas County Sheriff's Office provides protection at the other schools in the county.
“As far as changing anything, no,” Stafford said. “Just today we’ve had some meetings about our plan, revisiting our plan of what we would do in case one of these would occur and just to remind everybody in the command structure that these are our plans and taking a look at them every so often and making sure that we’re keeping them updated. All of those things for us take place automatically when one of these happen. There’s always a reminder. It’s always a good time to look inward and make sure that you’re doing the right thing to make sure that you’re prepared for one of these if it ever came here.”
Stafford said, “We increase patrol anytime one of these happen and it’s already happening.”
North said the best source of circumventing tragic incidents of this nature is through having an open, positive relationship with students.
“Our best source of information comes from our students,” the school superintendent said. “History shows that our students know about things.”
The slogan from Homeland Security applies here. “If you see something, say something.”
North agrees. “Never assume that someone is just playing,” he said. “Tell an adult. We will thoroughly vet the situation and we take it seriously.”
The Douglas County School System has already been looking into creating a command center, where during the school day, someone will be monitoring what is happening both outside around the schools and inside as well, North said. The command center will have monitoring capabilities to all of the schools within the school system.
Sean Roach, coordinator of safety, health and emergency preparedness for the Douglas County School System, along with two others, will be responsible for monitoring at the command center.
Two months ago, North met with Roach and IT Director Todd Hindmon, where he presented them with a number of security recommendations. Plans also include placing buzz-in entry systems in the high schools. Buzz-in systems are already in place in all elementary and middle schools, where visitors must state their name and business in order to be allowed inside the school building.
All five high schools in Douglas County each have two resource officers while middle schools each have one per school. Elementary schools are served by officers from middle or high schools, except in the city where DPD has resource officers at Eastside, Burnett and Arbor Station elementary schools. In addition to the buzz-in systems at elementary and middle schools all local schools have extensive video camera monitoring systems.
The shooting has brought an increased policing presence around the schools in the county, specifically Douglas County High School, for Douglasville police, Stafford said.
“We already have at least one police officer at each one of the public schools,” Stafford said. “We have two at the high school everyday. Anytime one of these school shootings happen, we automatically increase patrols over there. I think if you went by the high school today, you’d see that there were several officers where that’s not their normal patrol area. We have detectives, we have some of our training division, our motor and traffic division, all of them have been ordered to go by there as often as they can, walk the school and so on.”
According to Roach, all schools hold drills designed to protect local students in case of an active shooter emergency a minimum of two times a year.
During an active shooter situation, when given the secret code word, all teachers have been given specific information and instructions to protect students. In addition to these drills, schools regularly hold school lockdown drills in the event of an emergency on campus or in the neighboring community, he said.
Additionally, schools have been drilled on silent evacuation procedures in the event that the schools have to evacuate to a nearby location during an emergency. All of these drills take place in Douglas County schools a minimum of two times a year, with many schools doing them much more often.
According to Roach, the school system has also participated in mock simulations with the help of the Douglasville Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office for training in the event of an active shooter situation.
All DCSS schools also have the opportunity to participate in “Stop the Bleed.” Stop the Bleed is a nationwide initiative from the Department of Homeland Security, which began in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 to train and prepare staff members in the event they witnessed an emergency bleeding situation.
Fifteen schools have signed up for training, which began this month.