Metro Atlanta school leaders pitch new safety plans

Outside the Cobb County school board's meeting, parents and advocates, including Katie Kroll, gather to voice concerns for safety at schools and accountability for finances on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Outside the Cobb County school board's meeting, parents and advocates, including Katie Kroll, gather to voice concerns for safety at schools and accountability for finances on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Texas shooting adds to urgency of moves that districts were already considering

Several metro Atlanta school districts are looking at new ways to enhance security on their campuses — efforts that began even before last month’s school shooting in Texas.

Cobb County School District leaders this week announced several plans, such as a new system that will enable any employee to trigger a lockdown and notify law enforcement of a threat. It should be functioning by Aug. 1, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said.

Clayton County administrators said at a meeting the week after the May 24 shooting in Texas they are considering ideas, such as purchasing metal detectors and a concealed weapons detection device. Additionally, Clayton officials want to hire more school officers. The school district in late April banned bookbags on middle school and high school campuses in May and made other changes to slow an increase in the number of guns being brought into school buildings and on buses.

In Fulton County, Superintendent Mike Looney started Tuesday’s board meeting by pausing to remember the victims in Texas. He later announced that he has reconvened a district safety committee to meet this summer.

”I will be asking them to come forward with recommendations about other things that we might do to continue making advances in school safety,” Looney told board members.

Fulton, he said, is working through a list of recommendations that came out of safety audits previously conducted for each school.

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Part of a large makeshift memorial to the victims of a May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, in Uvalde, Texas, is shown on June 3, 2022. Heavily armed officers delayed confronting the gunman for more than an hour despite supervisors at the scene being told that some trapped with him in two classrooms were in need of medical treatment, a new review of video footage and other investigative material shows. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/The New York Times)

Part of a large makeshift memorial to the victims of a May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, in Uvalde, Texas, is shown on June 3, 2022. Heavily armed officers delayed confronting the gunman for more than an hour despite supervisors at the scene being told that some trapped with him in two classrooms were in need of medical treatment, a new review of video footage and other investigative material shows. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/The New York Times)

Combined ShapeCaption
Part of a large makeshift memorial to the victims of a May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, in Uvalde, Texas, is shown on June 3, 2022. Heavily armed officers delayed confronting the gunman for more than an hour despite supervisors at the scene being told that some trapped with him in two classrooms were in need of medical treatment, a new review of video footage and other investigative material shows. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/The New York Times)

Cobb officials disclosed general plans at Thursday’s school board meeting. The district will begin evaluating schools’ preparedness with unannounced lockdown drills. Ragsdale emphasized that students and staff would be made aware that there was not a real threat. The district may hire retired law enforcement and veterans as armed guards to supplement its existing police force, although Ragsdale said he does not support arming teachers.

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“The tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is an example of a pure evil act,” Ragsdale said. “Make no mistake: There is no quick fix or solution that will instantly make all schools immune to acts of evil.”

“Everything that we can do — every system, every measure, every process we can do to save time — will ultimately save lives,” he said.

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Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and school board member Randy Scamihorn (right) before the public portion of the Cobb County School Board monthly meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and school board member Randy Scamihorn (right) before the public portion of the Cobb County School Board monthly meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and school board member Randy Scamihorn (right) before the public portion of the Cobb County School Board monthly meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Cobb is the state’s second-largest school district, with about 107,000 students.

The district contracted in 2017 with a company to provide a system that functioned as a panic button for employees.

In February 2021, staff members were notified of an active alert when there was not actually a threat.

When board members raised concerns about the implementation of AlertPoint, Ragsdale insisted it had been fully functional at the time.

Looking toward the new system, Centegix, he made it clear that he would not discuss details about security publicly.

“Security is paramount to safety, and safety is compromised when information gets out at different levels,” Ragsdale said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

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Some parents are pushing for more transparency about what security measures already exist, and for more funds to be used to address mental health needs in schools.

Mindy Seger, who has two students in Cobb and organized about a dozen parents to demonstrate at the meeting, said time is of the essence.

“We can work to have those community conversations now when school is not in session,” she said. “And we can be better prepared when our students return in August.”

Parents also asked the district to spend federal pandemic aid on mental health services. Chief School Leadership Officer Sherri Hill said the district is hiring more school psychologists and social workers next year.

ExploreMetro Atlanta school districts on alert after Texas shooting

To help with the safety issue, Cobb is also hiring an architect to make internal security improvements at several schools — an effort that was in the works before the Texas shooting.

The district is asking for permission to use federal pandemic aid on safety and security measures, Ragsdale said.

Staff writers Vanessa McCray and Wilborn P. Nobles III contributed to this article.