City and county schools review safety plans and seek to assure caregivers

Courtesy of East Elementary

CULLMAN, Ala. – Following the May 24 attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 young children and two teachers dead, Cullman parents and caregivers have voiced their concerns over the safety of their school age children during the upcoming school year.

“It’s so tragic and I just can’t imagine what those families went through. I think my kids are safe at school, but you never know anymore. It seems like it could happen anywhere. My kids’ schools seem safe, but I’m scared, real scared for them. It’s scary to think about what could happen,” Cindy Allred voiced.

Both Cullman City and County schools have safety plans and school resource officers (SROs) in place and have utilized their skills for decades. During the summer months, the schools’ emergency action plans are reviewed and SROs receive additional, up-to-date training.

Cullman City School Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff shared, “Safety is our number one priority. We want our children and parents to feel comfortable and safe while students are at school.

Noting the improved safety being implemented this summer, Kallhoff said, “Before school begins in August, we will have access entry systems on all exterior doors on all campuses, including the Board of Education. This allows us to closely monitor who enters our buildings.

“We have cameras on all campuses and are in the process of unifying our camera system feed which will allow officers at the Cullman Police Department to have surveillance capabilities in the case of an emergency. We conduct monthly drills while school is in session, which include fire, severe weather and code red which is our lockdown drill,” he explained. “Each summer, the schools update Emergency Operation Plans and make sure new staff are aware of emergency plans, evacuation processes and areas, as well as reunification areas.”

Noting that, in the state of Alabama, there are only 440 SROs servicing 1,600 schools, he added, “We are extremely fortunate to have the partnership that we do with the Cullman Police Department. We have a school resource officer in every school and two at Cullman High School.”

Cullman Police Department Investigation Captain Jason Mickle echoed Kallhoff’s statement and is confident in the department’s preparation for dire situations. His department implemented active shooter training within 18 months of the Columbine shooting in April of 1999 when gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher.

Mickle explained, “I know we started doing active shooter training probably within 18 months after Columbine occurred, and that has been something that we have continued to train throughout the years. Lt. Eric Cole and myself, we actually go and assist at the Northeast Alabama Police Academy and we help teach law enforcement response to active shooter situations there.

“Each school has their own security and safety plan and one thing we try to do is help our SROs to coordinate with the schools with their specific plan. That way, we have the law enforcement response side but then we also have the person there on site. That’s what our SROs have been trying to do, to coordinate with the schools, to facilitate and coordinate to support them as much as we can.”

Looking to the county school system, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry was empathic, stating, “Our children are our most valuable resource. Because of this, there is no job more important than our school resource deputies. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the safety and security of all the students in Cullman County.”

Cullman County Deputy Chad Whaley provided, “The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and the Cullman County Board of Education are collaborating together in order to ensure a safe and productive upcoming school year. The safety of the students is paramount to everyone involved. Every school in Cullman County has a designated deputy on campus. The CCSO has recently been able to add a second deputy on campus at Good Hope. There are plans to add additional deputies to other schools as soon as it is possible to do so. “

Recognizing that each school campus is different with different safety needs much like the city schools, he continued, “The school resource deputies are meeting with their individual administrators to make sure each campus is prepared. This is vital because every school is different and faces unique challenges, and therefore, requires specific planning. Active Shooter training for the entire faculty and staff of all the schools will be made available. In addition, our school resource deputies began the summer attending the annual TAASRO (The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers) Conference. This annual training provides the most current training available for school safety.”

He continued, “The CCSO will also be providing various trainings for the SROs during the summer months. This will include Active Shooter Training, Solo Response to Active Shooters, firearms, defensive tactics and a myriad of other training as well.”

Cullman County School Superintendent Shane Barnette shared, “We are working on several things. We have added an SRO and working to add more. We are scheduling walk-throughs on each campus to evaluate what areas can be improved. Each individual school’s safety plans will be reviewed and updated. We are also working on a separate parallel network that will run our web-based cameras and telecommunications. We have continued to install controlled access entries at each school’s exterior doors. We are also updating our visitor check-in system.”

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