NORTH FULTON, Ga. – With the spotlight focused on school safety following several high profile events, officials with the Fulton County School System continue their efforts to make schools as safe as possible for the more than 100,000 students and staff who pass through its doors each day.
September is National Preparedness Month, but safety efforts are a year-round priority, say officials.
“The Fulton County School System considers safety a part of its everyday operations,” said Samantha Evans, spokesperson for Fulton Schools. “[We want to] make sure that students, parents and staff know of the district’s preventive measures to keep them safe as well as what to do in an emergency.”
Over the past several years, beginning with the Columbine shooting in Colorado and especially in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy and the Decatur school intruder incident, Fulton Schools has been increasing its overall security measures.
In 2001, the Fulton County School System was the first system in the state to have its school safety plan approved by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). The focus on school safety was enhanced six years ago with the hiring of Mark Muma as the director of safety and security for Fulton Schools. Muma was previously the school safety coordinator for GEMA.
A number of enhancements to school access and safety have been implemented in the past several years, primarily on the accountability of people who are in the schools during the school days. Long gone are the days when a wave and a nod would get you past the front desk to drop off forgotten items and cupcakes to your child’s classroom.
Schools now require all visitors to sign in, state where they will be and for what purpose, and be badged whenever they are in the building.
Over the past three years, the screening of volunteers was upgraded, with all overnight chaperones requiring background checks, and those who work directly with students required to fill out a volunteer form and take a training session prior to working in a school. Last year, the state legislature passed a law that added school volunteers to the list of “mandatory reporters” of suspected child abuse.
Beginning this year, Muma said schools will install a visitor identification system so volunteers can sign in prior to going to their destination within the school.
“At the kiosk, a person will scan their driver’s license and that will allow them to register into the system to make sure they have completed the [required] training,” said Muma.
Over the next few months, the Fulton School Board will also consider a recommendation to install a front door access control system in schools. Visitors will identify themselves through a video and audio system prior to being allowed into the school.
Muma said a few schools in the system already have a “buzzer system” when allowing visitors into their schools, but the recommendation before the board is to have this system installed in all schools by the end of the school year.
“Especially after the Sandy Hook incident, schools really looked at [best practices] and having some type of buzzer system in place,” said Muma. “There are a few systems – Fayette and Cobb – which have moved into having a video monitor system in place. We are looking to implement it system-wide in Fulton.”
Muma said the goal of all of these systems is to simply track the movement of visitors both at the school and a central location for heightened security. Currently, the tracking is done locally through a variety of methods; however Muma looks to have them all using the same integrated system.
“All doors will be locked, and [front office staff] will see the visitor, talk to them and confirm why they are there before allowing them into the building and registering at the kiosk,” said Muma.
Both the access control system and identification system are being funded through the 1 cent Special Purpose Location Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which has been in place in Fulton Schools since 1999.
Fulton County Schools also is increasing its use of SchoolMessenger, a mass notification system that uses voice calls, email and text messaging to keep parents and staff members informed during an emergency. Parents can text ‘YES’ to 88544 to opt-in for emergency text alerts.
“Every school incident that happens [around the country] provides an opportunity for lessons to be learned so that we continually make improvements to our school security systems,” said Muma.