Liberty County School System leaders touted their efforts to make schools safer from outside threats at a town hall meeting Thursday.
But many parents in attendance issued worries about threats from inside the schools.
At a town hall led by District 2 Board of Education member Marcus Scott, school system officials went over the successes — and challenges — for those in attendance at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
But the majority of the questions asked of board members and system leaders, and comments directed toward them, dealt with how the schools handle reports of bullying and what can be done to curtail the incidents.
“We have a great group of kids overall,” Assistant Superintendent Dr Zheadric Barbra said. “We want to spend a lot of time working with them on choices so they don’t bring things to school that are inappropriate.”
A parent told school officials her child was involved in an altercation at school, and when she requested the footage from the classroom camera, she said she was told the camera timed out.
Dr. Barbra said those cameras are supposed to be running continuously. There may have been some problems at schools that underwent renovations recently and cameras were damaged.
Requesting footage from in-class and in-school cameras also can be problematic, Dr. Barbra pointed out, since it may show other students not involved, and the parents of those students may not have granted permission for images of their children to be shared.
Dr. Barbra implored parents to speak with a principal if there is an incident, and if they don’t get results, go further up the school system administration chain of command.
“We want to be transparent as possible,” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said he has gotten reports of bullying from parents and asked if they had contacted the schools’ principals. He said he often gets a response that the parents didn’t want their children in any kind of trouble.
“Well, you’ve got to report it. You’ve got to report it,” he said. “We are working diligently every single day to get every single one of our students to treat everybody right. That’s an ongoing situation. That’s not something we can snap our fingers and make it happen.”
Perry also said there are incidents that begin over the weekend and carry over into the schools that the schools don’t know anything about until those become altercations among students.
“We need everybody’s help,” he said.
School board chair Verdell Jones said the system does not want to see a single child get hurt, and she emphasized the school system needs help from the parents.
“We can point fingers and blame,” she said, “but it has to stop. Everybody has to be in a safe and positive environment to learn, and that starts at the very top. What we cannot do is put it all on the backs of the teachers and the people inside the buildings.
“Children do what they see and say what they hear.”
Dr. Barbra said all schools have to have a certain number of personnel trained in de-escalation, and the school system is adding school resource officers who will be trained in those matters.
Schools’ chief operating officer Arnold Jackson detailed the steps that have been taken and that are underway to bolster security from external threats at the schools.
Improvements across the system include new vestibules, having single points of entry at schools, electronic locking system, exterior lighting and intrusion detection. Other upgrades include cameras on school buses and in all K–12 classrooms and new public address systems.
Schools also conduct regular safety drills, Jackson said.