School safety needs to be a priority

Mar 01, 2013

School safety has been a hot topic since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.

We’d all like to think that such a thing wouldn’t happen in Haywood County, but the truth is, if it can happen in Sandy Hook or Columbine, it can happen anywhere.

Teachers, parents and communities want to know what steps school systems are taking to prevent such a tragedy and to ensure our children are learning in a safe environment.

Newly elected 11th District Congressman Mark Meadows is making it his priority to provide funding for local school districts and law enforcement agencies to place officers in every school. He wants to fund the Cops in Schools grant program, which has gone unfunded since 2005, to help law enforcement agencies hire officers and place them in schools.

Haywood County currently has full-time school resource officers in four of its 16 schools. Many local law enforcement officials have wanted officers in the schools for quite some time, but unfortunately the local funding isn’t available. We support the idea of having an armed police presence in each school.

Having an armed officer doesn’t necessarily prevent such a disaster from happening, but it would hopefully be a deterrent if an intruder knew he could be met with resistance.

The Protect America’s School Act would allow agencies to apply for a three-year grant based on the number of officers they need. The only problem is that an agency awarded the three-year grant runs the risk of not receiving the grant when they have to re-apply.

Schools and law enforcement agencies will find themselves in the same predicament if local funding isn’t available to replace the grant. It is critical to keep the officer presence sustainable if the program is to be successful.

It would be great to have officers in every school, but perhaps when applying for the grant, agencies should consider what they could afford to keep if the grant is taken away. Interim Sheriff Larry Bryson pointed out that the greatest need would be rural schools like Riverbend and Bethel elementary schools because officer response time is longer.

We encourage our local agencies to work together and go after the grant funding. In the meantime, a plan needs to be discussed on how we can continue funding the school resource officers in case the grant runs out.

It also is important to mention that having an armed officer in the schools is not the only avenue for making our schools safer. We appreciate the diligence of law enforcement and school administrators in Haywood who are working to review safety policies and protocols to ensure they are doing everything within their power to protect students and faculty.