Parents of students in Dalton Public Schools should begin seeing safety improvements within the next month, according to Dr. Tim Scott, superintendent. "Our parents, staff and students provided input on safety enhancements of our building and they can be assured that we are listening," he added.
The recent incident at Dalton High School when a teacher fired a gun in a classroom served as a reminder that schools, like anywhere else in a community, can become places of violence. This incident brought even more urgency to the ongoing work of enhancing safety in all of our schools.
"The safety of all students and the security of our schools are of utmost importance to everyone in Dalton Public Schools," Scott said. "Students cannot focus on learning and teachers cannot effectively lead classes if they do not feel safe in classrooms."
Members of the Dalton Board of Education immediately responded to the Dalton High incident by hosting a listening session for the community to provide input on safety enhancements for the schools moving forward. District and school administration participated in debriefing sessions following the incident with law enforcement and first responders as well as with Dalton High students and staff members. The district also did an internal debrief with administration to review protocols and procedures. The collective feedback from all the meetings resulted in similar requests for safety improvements that the district could consider for implementation.
Board members held a called meeting on March 28 to review what steps are in process for improving school safety. Superintendent Tim Scott, along with Director of Operations Rusty Lount and Chief Financial Officer Theresa Perry, presented the following recommendations: hiring four additional security resource officers, add intruder door locks to all classroom doors, upgrading the public address systems (intercoms) to digital systems, replacing existing analog cameras with digital systems and adding card access readers to more exterior doors. Also, new digital radios for the district have already been purchased and will greatly improve communications.
Dr. Scott added that schools are already in the process of conducting lockdown drills while the cafeteria or the gymnasium are occupied to better prepare students and staff. Principals are also reviewing their safety plans with staff and addressing any areas for improvement.
Beginning in August, the district would like to expand the use of the K-9 unit throughout the district from three to 10 times a year. Also, the contract for the Student Assistance Program, which provides emotional support and mental health counseling for students, will likely be expanded to include students at the elementary schools in addition to the middle and high school students.
The facility changes will begin immediately at Dalton High School once the board approves the funding on April 17 at their regular board meeting. Work will start this summer at Dalton Middle, Morris Innovative High School, Blue Ridge, Park Creek, Roan and Westwood. These same upgrades will be included in the Brookwood and City Park schools' capital renovation projects, scheduled to start this summer. Much of the funding for these projects will come from ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). These security upgrades will also be included in the construction of the new grades 6-7 school.
At the district level, the phone system will be converted this summer to a voice-over IP that will integrate with the digital public address system and offer enhanced features.
Safety improvements at schools have always been a priority for the district. In 2013, the district began renovating the front entrances to schools to secure the area with locked doors requiring guests to have approved access before entering the building. In 2014, emergency 911 notification systems were installed in all schools. Most recently, during the Dalton High School renovation, A number of safety enhancements were built into the project including the addition of digital cameras and modification of some doors and entry areas that included intruder locks.