U.S. Sen. David Perdue visited Mashburn Elementary School in Forsyth County on Friday afternoon, touring the school with state and local officials to get a look at some of the sweeping system-wide school security upgrades that have been put in place over the past year.
After engaging in a discussion with leaders like Georgia’s First Lady Marty Kemp, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, Superintendent Jeff Bearden and Mashburn Principal Carla Gravitt, Perdue praised Forsyth County for placing such a high priority on school safety.
"My take away is that this local system in Forsyth County did not wait on the feds or the state or anyone else,” Perdue said after the tour. “They have stepped out themselves in the local community and made some real big decisions and made a difference here."
In the wake of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead in early 2018, the Forsyth County Board of Education voted to reallocate $5 million of its 2019 School Bond to expand dozens of district-wide safety projects that were recommended by the Forsyth County School Safety Task Force.
Since that vote, the school system has upgraded nearly every school in the district with new camera systems, lockdown buttons, emergency medical equipment, secure double entryways and smarter screening technology using a combination of bond money, state grants and federal funding, including a $30,000 school safety grant that was awarded to Forsyth County in 2019.
"This is an older school, and yet it is being retrofitted for a lot of the state-of-the-art security items out there," Perdue said.
Beyond the material upgrades, he said that the human elements that the school system has implemented, additional resource officers, counselors and school advocacy specialists, have made a big difference in the system.
"[Freeman] has done a fantastic job of integrating his [school resource officers] … into the schools,” Perdue said. “Sometimes the best relationships are between some of these at-risk kids and the [school resource officers] … that's unusual, and if we can export that around the state and around the country, that alone is a big deal."
After meeting with the delegation, Gravitt expressed how good it felt to have leaders come into the system and see the good work that is being done at a local level.
Gravitt said that with the renewed emphasis on school safety, her students and faculty can come to school each day and just focus on education.
“It means that we can come to school and know that we're in a good place, that we are safe, we're protected and students come to focus on learning," she said.
Perdue said that in talking with local officials in Forsyth County about what they are doing right, they hope to round out and complement federal legislation like the ban on bump stocks, by creating a database of safety “best practices” that could be implemented across the country.
"I think the best practices here that can be exported; I'm walking away with some ideas about how to help them do that,” he said. "Out of the STOP School Violence Act (signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018) came the drive to have a commission on best practices, so I now have a bill in that takes that to another step and actually funds it.”
Freeman later said that the security steps that were taken in Forsyth County could absolutely be translated to other areas of the country and would make a difference.
“They are making a difference here, they can make a difference somewhere else and when we are talking about the safety of kids, you can't afford not to have the conversation,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to ask yourself 'what's next?'"
Freeman also said that he was pleased that they were asked “very good” questions during the conversation with Perdue and Kemp, stating that he was glad they had a chance to talk about what they could be doing better, along with talking about what they do well.
“Anytime we can have those broader conversations with policy makers ... that’s great, that's the right direction to be headed. The conversation gets us farther," he said. "If you are not challenging and looking for the next step, then you are getting behind."