The County Committee of the Catoosa County Republican Party expressed concern at its Feb. 27 meeting about how safe students are in Catoosa County schools.
Committee first vice-chairman Greg Grayson, who is a former Catoosa County probate judge, says the time to do something to make local schools more secure is now. "The last thing we want to do is sit around until something like Columbine or Sandy Hook or Parkland, Florida, happens to us."
The committee passed a resolution calling for metal detectors in all schools and for training and arming select teachers.
But Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese says there is far more security in place than a lot of people realize and that the system is engaged in constant improvements and additions to the security of its schools.
"Every school violence incident is alarming," Reese said. "I've been in education for 34 years, and I never dreamed we'd be having the conversations we are today about school safety. I want the citizens of Catoosa County to be confident that maintaining safe and secure schools is our highest priority."
Here's a run-down of the security measures in place, as provided by Reese's office.
In a partnership with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Department, every middle and high school has school resource officers (SRO). SROs are armed and trained to recognize and respond to danger.
In 2015, a Threat Assessment Protocol was implemented to evaluate students who might be at risk for hurting themselves or someone else.
The school system has a Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA)approved safety plan, developed in partnership with the sheriff's department. The Catoosa plan is used by GEMA as a model for other school systems within the state.
The school system has teams that include law enforcement and emergency management personnel. The teams conduct regular safety audits in every school. School Safety Teams are then responsible for implementing protocols and conducting safety drills, including "Run, Hide, Survive" drills in which teachers and students practice appropriate responses to different emergency scenarios.
Surveillance equipment, including new security cameras, has been installed in every school.
In case of a threat, teachers can access their school's surveillance system from their classroom computers to assess the wisdom of evacuating (RUN) or barricading the classroom and getting out of the way
"Every school violence incident is alarming. I've been in education for 34 years, and I never dreamed we'd be having the conversations we are today about school safety. I want the citizens of Catoosa County to be confident that maintaining safe and secure schools is our highest priority." — Schools Superintendent Denia Reese
"The sheriff, the board of education and I agree that school resource officers who are armed and trained for emergency situations should be considered as our next investment to enhance school safety." — Schools Superintendent Denia Reese
of windows and doors (HIDE). Teachers and students are instructed to fight (SURVIVE) if the intruder manages to get past the barricade.
All schools now have "Buzz-in systems." Anyone wishing to enter a school must push a buzzer and, if requested, show identification by way of a security camera. Unknown visitors are not allowed in the school until their purpose for visiting has been validated by an administrator.
Sielox CLASS (Crisis Lockdown Alert Status System) has been installed in every school and training is underway. The system can alert emergency personnel of a threat and enable communications with first responders. It can visually track and report situations in real time on a room-by-room basis. Any teacher or designated person can initiate an emergency alert. First responders can access a color-coded map of the school and track motion within the school. If they've confirmed an area of the school has been evacuated but they still see movement, they know it's likely an intruder.
The school system is in its third year of implementing the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Model designed to enhance students' academic and social behaviors. Administrators say they've seen significant improvement in student behavior as a result.
Schools teach students strategies to deal with issues like teasing and bullying. If those strategies fail, students or parents can call a toll-free number, 1-800-SAY-STOP, to report problems.
The school system has a text alert system for parents to let them know if there's a problem they need to be aware of. There 14,000 people signed up for it at this time. There's also a free APP that keeps parents aware of what's going on in the schools and includes an alert feature. The APP can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play by searching "High Ground Solutions" then scrolling to the Catoosa County Public Schools APP.
Superintendent Denia Reese has started "Listening Luncheons" with school employees to discuss safety issues and plans to start them with the Local School Governance Teams at each school. The teams include parents and people from the local community.
Reese says that the experiences of other school systems using metal detectors has been problematic – extra people have to be hired to facilitate the use of the detectors, class times have to be staggered because it takes so long to get all the students through, backpacks have to be passed through, backup is required to deal with situations in which students set off detectors, and protocols must be in place for searching students who set off detectors.
As far as arming teachers goes, Reese prefers the use of school resource officers. "The sheriff, the board of education and I agree that school resource officers who are armed and trained for emergency situations should be considered as our next investment to enhance school safety."
"The Catoosa County Board of Education is committed to safe schools," says Reese, "but at the same time, we want to make sure we are investing in equipment that will actually be a long-term solution to improve student safety."
Last week Northwest Georgia received several inches of rain over a two-day period. For the most part the rain, as usual, swelled local creeks, especially West and South Chickamauga Creeks, which crested over their banks. According to the National Park Service, West Chickamauga Creek, which runs along the outskirts of Chickamauga Battlefield Park, the rain gauge in Fort Oglethorpe showed the creek running at more than 3,000 cubic feet per second. As a point of comparison, during a late summer drought it can get as low as 50 cfs, the National Park Service said
Those voting a party ticket in primary elections often see resolutions they can vote for or against. A resolution might read like this: Should the government of Anyville publish on the city's website the cost of its annual holiday party?
Resolutions are submitted, through a formal process, by official committees of the parties. The County Committee of the Catoosa County Republican Party is currently testing 35 questions with plans to whittle the list down to eight or 10 that will be included on the Republican Primary ballot in May.
"Our job," says Committee Chairman Jeff Holcomb, "is to serve the people. We
want to know what they think should go on the ballot and give them a chance to make their concerns known on election day."
Some of the items on the current list are faith-based: Should our legislatures be supportive of God's laws and not be working against God's laws? Would you support elective Bible classes being taught in our Catoosa County Schools?
Two other questions ask if Creationism should be taught side-by-side with evolution in public schools and if students should be taught in history classes that there are Old and New Testament Bible verses that correlate with each of the amendments in the Bill of Rights.
Five questions address controlled substances – alcohol and marijuana. Two questions address abortion. One addresses immigrants.
There's a question that promotes historic preservation related to the Old Stone Church in Ringgold and one about the Polo Grounds in Fort Oglethorpe, suggesting another location for the ball fields currently on Barnhardt Circle.
Seven questions specifically address taxes and how they should be used. One asks if property taxes should be waived for citizens aged 65 and over. Another asks if nominees of the Republican Party should have to commit to never voting for a tax increase. Several address the use of SPLOST and ESPLOST funds.
One question asks if Ringgold should "expand its city limits by annexing land further down Ga. Highway 151 and then seek to attract more commercial and retail businesses."
A number of questions pertain to the county budget, transparency, and commissioners' salaries: "Should the county cease benefits for Commissioners; Commissioners shall be treated as a part time position and not a full time job. Only out of pocket expenses and per diem should be paid to Commissioners."
Budget questions suggest that specific line-item descriptions of expenditures by all government offices and departments be made public online and that the county adopt "Zerobased budgeting," in which justification for each expense must be offered each new period.
There's a question that asks if the Board of Commissioners should allow the same company to audit financial records every year.
"Should the County allow Conflicts of Interest in County Government" and "Should the County allow Nepotism in County Government?" are two more questions. Nepotism is the practice of offering favors and jobs to friends and family.
Anyone wishing to see the full list of 35 questions and vote their preferences on them can visit facebook.com/catoosaGOP.