Gums are flapping. Debates are raging. Talk is cheap as people all over the community are busy throwing out ideas and suggestions about what to do about the safety of our schoolchildren in Muscogee County.
These conversations obviously heated up on Feb. 14 when a youthful gunman lured students out of a Florida high school so he could open fire with a semi-automatic weapon. Seventeen students and teachers were killed. Fourteen were seriously wounded.
Officials in the Muscogee County School District announced on Feb. 22 that they were reinforcing existing policies and procedures and that on-site security teams were discussing protections on the various campuses. Russell County Schools announced their intentions to hire a security chief.
Arm the teachers, President Donald Trump suggested. Put armed lawmen in our schools, local parents said. Make our schoolhouses more secure, people demanded. Expand the MCSD security department into a school police force.
Social media is abuzz with a variety of questions and solutions.
Should MCSD schools conduct mock shooters drills?
• “Not necessary.”
• “My son has Asperger’s … and it might trigger him.”
• “Parent consent would be a must.”
• “A sporadic situation such as that could scar a child for life.”
• “I send my kid to school — not basic training.”
• “Kids are desensitized enough without having people running around their school with a gun.”
What plans and procedures are already in place?
• “School staffs should be trained first.”
• “They need to practice locking down the schools.”
• “I want my kids prepared … I want them to know how to react.”
• “Businesses are training people to Run, Hide and Fight. Teachers and children ought to be taught how to secure their classrooms.”
Some people say Muscogee County needs to employ retired soldiers as security guards. Others say that would help only if the retirees were trained in security measures in the military. Some folks suggest that the MCSD should bring off-duty police officers aboard, but people experienced in law enforcement say officers pulling double shifts would not be effective on either job.
News that collections from the Special Purpose Local Sales Tax will be enough to build a new high school football stadium in South Columbus spurred debates over those funds should be used to hire armed campus security guards.
Meanwhile … as is often the case after horrible tragedies such as the one in South Florida … there has been an increased number of problems and incidents reported at schools throughout the area — from fights at Kendrick High School to a Shaw High School student being arrested Wednesday for making threats to harm another student on social media.
So what should be done?
Someone — be it Superintendent David Lewis, Chief of Police Ricky Boren, Sheriff Donna Tompkins or Marshall Greg Countryman — should call for a mass meeting of educators, law enforcement experts, parents, clergy, mental health professionals and other interested stakeholders to discuss measures to proactively deal with the school security issue. Such a group might also organize training programs so every constituent in the community would be better prepared.
Invite representatives of the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College at Columbus State University, the Georgia Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, the School of Education at CSU and other entities to inspect the 62 campuses in the MCSD and make security recommendations.
Forget the politics. Forget the competition between agencies. Forget egos. Forget talk of how we’ve always done it. Concentrate on the 32,000 children and young people who are depending on us to keep them safe.