A recent tragedy in Nashville, TN, in which six people at a Christian private school — three children and three adults — were killed by a woman carrying multiple firearms has again raised concerns about safety in Webster County schools.
“Every time a shooting occurs we get calls from parents concerned about the safety of their children,” said Superintendent Aaron Harrell during Monday’s meeting of the Webster County Board of Education. “This has been on our minds all year.”
Harrell made security at each campus in the county one of his primary goals when he took over the position in 2022. One of the pillars in his district plan focuses on safety of students and staff. He took the first step to reach that goal prior to this school year when he made the position of Safe Schools Director full time.
But the district is faced with a familiar obstacle when it comes to meeting a state mandate meant to increase security even more: funding.
“Funding is always a major challenge,” Harrell said. “We’re not like a business that can sell more widgets and put the money back into the business. We have to find creative ways to move funds.”
The mandate in question is the placement of School Resource Officers at each campus in the county. The requirement is a result of the passage of House Bill 63 last year. It was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear last April, and required all campuses to have SROs by August 1, 2022.
The district already had one SRO in place before the law took effect, but funding has been a difficult obstacle in the process to hire three more officers.
Harrell has received assurances from Webster County Sheriff Billy Braden that the agency will continue to work with the district to hire and place deputies where needed. The superintendent also said he wants to work with Providence Police Chief Ray Agent and Mayor Butch Hackney for the Providence Elementary School campus. That department already assists during drop-off and pick-up times.
While the current SRO at the Dixon campus — Deputy Russell Roberts who works primarily at the high school — is employed by the WCSO, his salary is fully paid by the district. Adding at least three additional officers will be a challenge, Harrell admits.
Board Member James Nance suggested there are steps the school system can take until more SROs can be hired.
“I have spoken to Marshall County, and they have installed metal detectors,” he explained. “They have nothing but positive things to say. The students feel safer, and there are no complaints from the parents.”
Marshall County High School was the site of a shooting in 2018 that left two students dead and 14 people injured.
“I’m asking that students and parents be surveyed” regarding their feelings about metal detectors, Nance said.
Harrell stated he had discussed such measures with Safe Schools Coordinator Zachary LaGrange. He added that metal detectors will pick up on anything, but a weapons detection system focuses on materials typically used in firearms.
“We have looked into the cost (of a system),” Harrell said. “We would need to be smart about what we spend and what we install.”
Nance ended the discussion by inviting Harrell and other board member to visit Marshall County and examine the system the district has in place. No plans were made at the time.
In other business, the board approved a resolution to join litigation against several social media companies. A copy of the resolution was to be made available by board attorney Roy Massey, but the document had yet to arrive by press time.
The local school district is the latest across the state to file as a co-plaintiff in a class action against some of the most popular social media applications used by teenagers and pre-adolescents.
The companies named in the suit are:
Meta Platforms Inc.
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Facebook Holdings, LLC.
Facebook Operations, LLC.
Meta Payments Inc.
Facebook Technologies, LLC.
XXVI Holdings, Inc.
Jefferson County and Fayette County schools have previously filed litigation, claiming use of the platforms have contributed to numerous mental disorders among students. Text of the filing could not be obtained by press time.
Assistant Superintendent Greg Bowles detailed numerous areas of damage to buildings and grounds during last month’s storms.
Several buildings, as well as structures at the Clarky Clark Athletic Complex, were assessed recently by the district’s insurance company. The repairs were estimated at $145,729.
The school system has already paid just over $13,000 of that amount on repairs to the roof of the annex in Dixon. Bowles stated the roof had to be fixed immediately because it was allowing rain to pour into the building.
Finance Officer Brandi Burnett outlined several routine items the board would need to vote on at the next meeting on April 24.
Those items include the state-set indirect cost rate, the fiscal year KETS offer of assistance, the FY2023-24 beverage bid advertisement, the 2023-24 district salary schedule and pay dates, and the appropriations pay date schedule.