On Valentine’s Day in south Florida, a 19 year old barged into his former high school armed with an AR-15 rifle and started shooting innocent, young people.
The former student somehow gained entry into the school — which he’d been kicked out of for disciplinary reasons — and killed 17 students. More than 20 were wounded. It was the nation’s fourth-worst school shooting in history and the 18th school shooting in the United States just this year.
On Thursday afternoon, Forsyth County Schools issued a news release reiterating that the district has “extensive school safety plans” in place and works closely with the local sheriff’s office to conduct active shooter drills.
“Forsyth County Schools works to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment at our schools for our students, staff and visitors,” the release stated. “We understand and share your concerns about safety relative to the school shooting in Florida. In light of yesterday’s tragedy, all principals are reviewing their school safety procedures and protocol.”
In the release, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden advised that parents speak with their children “about the importance of communication … if they see, hear, or suspect something, they need to report their concerns immediately to a parent, teacher, SRO or administrator.”
Bearden said parents or others can call the district’s Campus Crime Stoppers hotline to make an anonymous report at (770) 205-4625.
Division Chief Jason Shivers, spokesman for the Forsyth County Fire Department, said Wednesday’s tragic incident in Florida “is a stark reminder that no community is immune from tragedy. The Forsyth County Fire Department takes the protection of our local children, students, and teachers with the utmost seriousness and diligence.”
Added Shivers: “We train along with our public safety partners regularly for any number of emergency situations and at least annually for school events. Working in concert with the board of education, department of school safety, the fire department continues to improve our resources and response capabilities to such incidents.”
The news release from the school district stated that the district participates in safety drills — most recently at West Forsyth High School last year. The district is “in daily contact with” the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and has 28 school resource officers in campuses around the district.
The drills are offered as a partnership with the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies.
In the release, Sheriff Ron Freeman responded to the recent events and offered encouraging words.
“While we are all heartbroken over the tragedy … the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office remains steadfast in our partnership with Forsyth County Schools in our joint mission to keep our schools safe.”
Freeman added that the local agency had stepped up law enforcement presence at area schools “in addition to our 28 school resource deputies ... That will continue. We will continue to do everything in our power to keep our kids safe, and Forsyth County Schools takes this issue seriously when working with FCSO. We at the Sheriff’s Office consider this our most solemn duty.”
Freeman went on to say that the “takeaway from this tragedy has to be in our community effort … the most important security measure we have is found in our own children. Our kids are the first to see and hear suspicious, strange or threatening behavior, often on social media.
He said it’s “imperative that we as parents talk with our children on the importance of speaking up when they see such behavior, it is without doubt the most effective tool we will ever have to protect our own children. Please have this tough talk with your children, if they see something they need to say something.”
According to the release, Forsyth County Schools has security cameras in all schools, lockdown buttons that are connected directly to 911 dispatch, control access points, check-in procedures and visitor scanning technology.
Those who have questions about school safety procedures and practices can contact respective school administrators.
The news release also provided a link aimed at helping parents talk with their children about violence: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers
Studio Forsyth: In the wake of the tragic school shooting in south Florida, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman talks about the county’s preparedness to respond to such an event and how to help prevent tragedies like this.