All Gwinnett County school buildings will get enhanced security vestibules at front entrances within about a year and push button locks in classrooms before students leave for winter break.
Eric Thigpen, executive director of academic support, said at Thursday’s board meeting that the district is also considering using $6.2 million on equipping all school staff with crisis alert badges and installing artificial intelligence to detect weapons being brought into buildings.
Incidents involving fights, guns and lockdowns in and near schools have driven concerns about school safety in Gwinnett, Georgia’s largest school district. Recently, community members have organized two separate events geared at solutions to safety and student discipline.
From August through October, there have been 947 students involved in 638 different incidents of fighting. Last year, the first three months of school saw 724 students involved in 473 fights.
The vestibules add a second set of doors at a school’s designated visitor entrance and are equipped with glass that slows a bullet and can prevent someone who shouldn’t be at the school from entering, Thigpen said.
Gwinnett started the year with 15 schools with safety vestibules — mostly just the newest schools in the district. Walt Martin, chief business operations officer, said Thursday that several schools were retrofitted for vestibules, and now 41 have them.
Martin said the district can install two per week and estimated the 102 other schools in Gwinnett would have vestibules by the end of 2023.
Martin said all classrooms are getting a push button lock system by the start of winter break. The system makes locking the doors easier and faster in an emergency, Thigpen said.
Parkview and South Gwinnett high schools are piloting a badge system that equips all school staff with a button to call for help.
“We know that every second matters in the event of a crisis,” Thigpen said. “Be it a medical alert, be it a fight, or God forbid, be it that we actually have a weapon in our school and someone is trying to do harm to our students or staff, (any employee) would have the ability to push this alert badge, and it identifies where they are and what the threat may be.”
Anyone with the badge is connected to an app that notifies of the situation and its location, allowing for faster response, Thigpen said. He noted the system covers the exterior of the school for incidents in outdoor spaces, such as football stadiums.
Thigpen said staff are looking into an artificial intelligence system that can use cameras to detect weapons and notify staff. During the meeting, he said there were five incidents of students bringing a gun to school this school year through the end of October, up from two in the same time span a year ago.
Gwinnett school officials plan ongoing discussions with board members about potential plans.
There wasn’t discussion Thursday of adding metal detectors or scanners at schools, but board member Mary Kay Murphy said she would need to hear community input before approving a purchase.
Superintendent Calvin Watts said at a community event that the district is in the early stages of considering them, drawing some applause. At a separate community event that Watts attended, however, students spoke against detectors, saying they create a feeling of less safety and don’t affect violence they face in their communities.