The Friday school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 prompts questions of whether local officials are equipped to handle an event of this magnitude.
“Can we prevent it? No,” Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said as details of the shooting broke. “Are we doing things to try? Yes, and hopefully we have procedures in place to minimize the terribleness of it, even though I can tell you that we could never stop it.”
The board of education had safety in mind when it adopted an unpopular, restrictive visitor policy earlier this year, Scherer said. It is one of many steps aimed to minimize harm.
In addition, Scherer said every building has a safety plan, and students and staff hold drills to walk through the plans. The schools also keep all doors except for the main entrances locked at all times.
“That safety plan covers everything from natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes to intruders in the building, …,” Scherer said. “We have a lot of daily policies like signing into the office, visitors’ badges, people stopping strangers in the hallway and saying, ‘Who are you and why are you here?’ This sort-of thing.”
This year the board installed an interior door system at Bradwell Institute that restricts access by requiring visitors to sign in at the office before the doors are unlocked.
“We are as prepared as we know how to be, but every time one of these happens, we learn things,” Scherer said. “When something like this happens to one, it happens to all of us in that we all hurt.”
As for whether the tragedy in the Northeast will prompt the district to re-evaluate its own policies, Scherer said updates and revisions already happen on a continual basis with input from law-enforcement agencies and the Georgia Emergency Management Association.
The district on Friday still was coping with its own tragedy, the death of Button Gwinnett Elementary principal Mary Guiendon, who also worked at Joseph Martin Elementary School. Funeral services for the principal were scheduled for Saturday.
“The schools are doing well, considering … and we will make a decision and have leadership in place by the time we get back after Christmas,” Scherer said.
The Courier also attempted to reach Hinesville Police Department Chief George Stagmeier, Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and Chief Deputy Keith Moran. None returned calls at press time.