In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., Walton County Superintendent Carlene Anderson wants to send the message that, like always, the safety of students is the district’s top priority.
“Your child’s safety is the first priority of the Walton County School District,” Anderson relayed her message to parents.
Van R. Butler Principal Tammy Smith echoed Anderson’s message.
“The staff of Butler Elementary School joins the nation in mourning the tragic loss of life,” Smith said. “We are currently reviewing safety procedures … to determine what additional security measures must be implemented immediately, short-term, and long-term. Student safety is our top priority.”
After the tragic incident at Sandy Hook Elementary, Anderson’s first step was to send that message via phone to parents and administrators to reassure them that the school district would be making a plan for increased safety at schools throughout the county.
“We are not ignoring this, we are not complacent about this, but we are not over-reacting on this,” said Anderson.
The superintendent formed a task force to address the school district’s safety plan.
“I tasked them with short-term needs and long-term needs,” Anderson said. As well as, “What do we need to do right this minute?”
One of those immediate needs was beefing up security at county elementary schools.
“The Sheriff and I talked and we did put SRDs (school resource deputies) in schools until winter break,” said Anderson. “We know that’s one thing we’ve got to have.”
According to Wendy Ammons with Walton County Sheriff’s Office, this is almost doubling the SRD manpower.
“In response to the tragedy this past Friday, the Sheriff placed deputies at all elementary schools also which added six deputies to the SRD program,” said Ammons. Previously, eight deputies and one supervisor were a part of the program; one deputy was placed at each high school, middle school, and at the Walton Academy.
Anderson is confident that otherwise, preparation has been key to successfully protecting students. Monthly drills have been helpful in preparing teachers and administrators in emergencies from intruders to chemical spills to hurricanes.
“We have been working on safe schools for a long time and we are heightening our awareness,” she said.
Going forward, Anderson and the school board will be working to find room in the school budget to increase safety and security on a more permanent basis.
“I said to the board last night … ‘You know we’d like to have SRDs. We’ve got to put the money there,’ ” she said Wednesday. “You can’t put a price on the life of a child.”