Limestone County Schools hosted a law enforcement roundtable Tuesday to discuss ways to improve school safety.
Limestone Superintendent Tom Sisk chaired the roundtable, which also included seven representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, three Central Office safety team members and two Madison City police officers.
Capt. Fred Sloss, who supervises the Limestone school resource officer program, said after the meeting that the Sheriff’s Department has already interviewed SRO candidates after receiving about 20 applications.
The new part-time officers will share the assignment of patrolling the six K-6 campuses in Limestone that previously did not have an SRO. The six high schools in Limestone and the Career Technical Center already have full-time SROs, including four who attended Tuesday’s roundtable.
The Sheriff’s Department plans to hold its annual active-shooter training exercise before the school year begins in August. In the past, Sloss said the department previously trained at Redstone Arsenal and other locations outside the county. This year the department is looking into the possibility using the closed Belle Mina school building as its training site.
Steve Croley, a Limestone SRO and a member of the department’s Special Response Team, said a school resource officer has to be multi-faceted, in addition to providing day-to-day protecting and during emergencies.
“A lot of people look at us as a hired gun, but we have roles other than stopping a school shooter,” Croley said during the meeting.
Croley said his duties include distributing parking permits, answering questions about Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights and forensic science and teaching a hunting safety class for the Agri-Science Department.
Jason Sims, a Madison City policeman assigned to Bob Jones High School, said the most important role of an SRO is to educate teachers and students about school safety, including something as simple as keeping entry points closed.
“We have to educate both faculty and students about the importance of keeping doors closed,” said Sims, who is also the education coordinator for The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers. “The important thing is (safety) education.”
Among the changes for the Limestone system is implementing recommendations from the Central Office safety team, which completed a 48-page safety assessment for each school in the system that advises everything from more video surveillance and air-locked entryways to ensuring every visitor has proper clearance to enter and a visible badge.
“We have to start challenging every person that walks through the schools without a visitor’s badge,” Sloss said.
Elkmont High School resource officer Jason Pendergrass said specific assignments for school staff can improve monitoring during class changes. He said during the 2012-13 school year, the entrances to Elkmont’s classrooms and bathrooms were monitored at all times during class changes.
Sisk proposed a guided tour for sheriff’s deputies who patrol the roadways near the schools to Sheriff Mike Blakely, who agreed with the idea of allowing the deputies to visit school sites to become familiar with staff and the layout of the buildings.
Sisk said the school system intends to implement as many safety improvements as possible, but the timing hinges on adequate funding.
“We need to find the best (safety) practices and replicate them,” Sisk said. “We are building new schools with air-locked entry, reinforced glass and buzz-in entryways, but that still leaves 12 or so older (school buildings) …
“The safety committee has given us a comprehensive list of recommendations, but the issue is funding because we are 108th in the state in funding (per student). We are going to do as much as possible, but we are not able to (update) all our schools in one year.”