Educators, law enforcement and public safety personnel attend the ninth annual Safety in Our Schools conference June 26 - 28 in Columbus, Ga. CONTRIBUTED

State conference focuses on school safety

“Diagnosing the threats is the easy part,” Charles E. Peeler, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, told a Tuesday gathering of state agencies focused on school safety.

“The hard part is figuring out what to do about it,” he said. “But attending this conference is sure a step in the right direction.”

With 20 school shootings reported this year across the country, school safety is more critical than ever. The ninth annual Safety in Our Schools conference kicked off Tuesday in Columbus. Sponsored by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the Georgia Department of Education and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the goal is to provide training for law enforcement, school administration officials, public safety personnel, school counselors, school police officers and emergency management personnel.

“As I travel throughout the state probably the question I’m asked the most since the Parkland shooting is always about the threat of having an active shooter in schools,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods.

Participants discuss topics such as terrorism, school site assessments, opioid awareness and lessons learned from the San Bernardino Elementary School shooting, and teach best practices in keeping students safe.

Pooling resources is the key to success, several speakers stressed during the opening remarks.

“The mission of school safety is everyone’s responsibility. My challenge to you today is let’s put aside who we work for and worry less about who’s in charge of something and worry more about what can we do to work together to solve the issue and solve the mission,” said Homer Bryson, director of Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Earlier this year, the state Senate and House of Representatives convened committees to study school safety. The state has allocated $16 million toward safety improvements for the 180 state public school systems. The end goal is to author legislation that gives school systems safety options, said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell and Rep. Rick Jasperse, R- Jasper. It may include a budget for recurring funding.

Although Albers didn’t attend the meeting, he said he’s interested in receiving and reviewing the information that is presented and discussed. Senate staff assisting with this study committee will be asked to reach out to conference staff to see what information they can share.

“The conversations we have in the breakout sessions and around the coffee pot and in the hallways, that’s where the problems get solved.” Peeler told the approximately 400 conference attendees. “That’s where we develop solutions to these issues,” he said before acknowledging the work already being done to keep schools safe. “Thank you for being here if you are a teacher or school administrator or in law enforcement, thank for what you do every day to keep our schools safe.”

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