Survey: 25 percent of AL schools have no security personnel

State Superintendent Mackey comments on school safety

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As parents drop off their kids at the front doors of their school, safety is probably on their minds. So what are Alabama schools doing to keep students safe?

Schools have incorporated several different ways to keep students safe. That includes locked doors, additional cameras, and placing police officers or school resource officers on school grounds.

"It is something that a principal thinks about every single day, the safety and security of their students," said Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced in May the Alabama Sentry Program which allows an administrator to have access to a gun in school. This would only apply to schools without school resource officers.

A survey by the Alabama Department of Education this summer said 375 schools do not have any security personnel. This is 25 percent out of 1,500 schools.

The Alabama Sentry Program is voluntary, but a school administrator would need to get permission from their local superintendent, local school board, and county sheriff.

"That superintendent needs to have the confidence to think that 'yes this is a person that under an ungodly situation and terrible stress that I think has the maturity and the forethought to be trained to do this,'" Mackey said.

Mackey said administrators are always thinking about school safety.

"A principal is thinking about that every day and we wanted to make sure that we were thinking about a process that would give those principals an opportunity to step up as a sentry if they wanted to but would also not place any pressure on them," the superintendent explained.

Mackey sent a memo to local superintendents Friday, July 27. The memo lays out a suggested process to superintendents regarding the Alabama Sentry Program.

He said some superintendents wanted clarification on how to make the program operational.

"Here's some steps we recommend taking," Mackey said. "We made it clear they don't have to follow that exact process."

Mackey's suggested process includes 11 points, among them that the local school board should decide if they want to participate in the program. If the board does want to move forward, Mackey suggests they come to an agreement with their county sheriff's office where the administrator would be appointed as a reserve deputy sheriff.

The memo also made it clear that the program is voluntary and that the school board could not deny somebody employment if they do not want to participate.

Schools also have access to additional funding this year for school security. Lawmakers are allowing local school systems to tap the Education Advancement and Technology Fund for school safety improvements. Schools can choose to invest that money into technology or provide additional security measures.

"They could spend it on school security measures and some of them have opted to do that," Mackey said. "They can spend it on other things too and some of them have looked at it and said 'you know, we're spending money on school security out of another fund and we'd really need this maybe to invest into technology' and some have mixed it."

These schools need to provide Mackey with a plan on how they will spend their money.

"I have read every one of them and signed them," he said.

The Alabama Association of School Boards said in a statement it has seen many school boards step up their efforts for school safety, especially by placing more SROs in schools.

"As an organization, we see SROs as one of several critical components in what needs to be a multi-pronged approach to school safety, along with mental health services and training to help identify troubled students before a tragedy occurs."

The organization said funding these efforts is an issue, but they are "encouraged that the governor's SAFE Council has identified funding as a key priority in the recommendations released earlier this year."

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.