The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday it would provide an “increased presence” at every school in the county throughout the week.
District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said Tuesday the CCSD Police Department, which is made up of POST-certified, armed officers, will continue to be present on and around campuses following winter break, though specific plans regarding other law enforcement agencies have not yet been determined.
Baker assured that while no threats have been made to any schools, the decision was to provide an “extra sense of security” following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 27 people, mostly elementary-aged children.
“Uniform officers will be present as students arrive and depart the schools,” spokesman Lt. Jay Baker said. “Deputies will also increase patrols around schools throughout the day.”
Just hours after the shooting, Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo issued a statement via the school district’s website and followed up with a letter sent home with all CCSD students Monday afternoon.
In the letter to parents, Petruzielo said as a parent and grandparent, he shares the heartbreak for the Newtown community as well as concern for the safety and security of every child and employee in Cherokee County schools.
“Providing a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning is a top priority of the Cherokee County School District,” Petruzielo said. “As such, school district safety and security plans are continuously reviewed and updated to ensure this priority is met.”
Petruzielo also addressed the increased law enforcement presence at schools.
“This activity, which is being coordinated by the School District Police Department, Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments, will continue all week, and is a visible example of our strong, ongoing partnership with local law enforcement agencies,” Petruzielo said.
Sheriff Roger Garrison echoed this sentiment Tuesday, saying the patrols have gone well and without incident.
“It’s been very smooth and the deputies have been warmly greeted and warmly received by parents dropping their kids off,” Garrison said. “Our number one mission is the safety of the kids.”
Upon hearing the news of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Garrison said he spoke with chiefs from all local police departments Friday and made contact with the Cherokee County School Police Chief Mark Kissel, who he said already had begun doing its own planning for increased patrols.
“We decided it would be most efficient to coordinate our efforts,” Garrison said.
The sheriff said local law enforcement has always had great communication with local schools and is proud of that relationship.
“The better our communication, the more effective we can be,” he said.
He said members of his office and every police department in the county met Sunday at 10 a.m. to discuss the plan, with deputies monitoring all schools in unincorporated areas and Woodstock, Holly Springs, Canton and Ball Ground police departments patrolling all schools within their respective cities.
“We’ve all worked together as a team and everyone has been involved,” Garrison said.
As of now, Garrison said local authorities are looking to get the week following the tragedy behind them, with students off on break Friday, before deciding to continue the increased police presence.
“We’re in constant communication to see where we go from here,” Garrison said.
Additionally, Garrison said all local law officers participated in a multi-agency training program in November, where they were trained to work together in an active shooter scenario at a local school.
“We’ve trained aggressively in that subject,” Garrison said, adding the program is completed annually by all members of Cherokee County law enforcement.
Karen Puckett, who has two children at Holly Springs Elementary School, said she noticed a police officer Monday afternoon while waiting in the carpool line.
“I think it’s nice now, but we must come up with another way to be more secure than law enforcement at every school,” she said.
Puckett said her children told her Monday afternoon all doors were locked to their classrooms, which she thought was a good solution.
She added her 6-year-old talked a lot about the shooting over the weekend and was worried someone could harm her at school. Puckett said she told her daughter most people are good and that she is safe.
“Also, I told her that none of us are 100 percent sure of what the next day brings, so we need to love each other every single day,” Puckett said.
Bill Hagen, who has a daughter in second grade at R. M. Moore Elementary, said he also noticed a patrol car at his daughter’s school Monday morning and his daughter told him the classroom doors were typically locked.
“These are all good things but a week is not long enough,” Hagen said.
Hagen said he told his daughter events like this are very rare.
“We answered her questions the best we could and urged her to ask any questions she had and assured her that we as well as the school are doing everything to keep kids safe,” Hagen said.
Petruzielo said in his letter all CCSD schools employ counselors trained to support children in times of need and concern, and each school has access to additional counselors, psychologists and social workers.
“While these are examples of crisis response, please know that the school district works year-round to maintain safe and secure schools,” Petruzielo said. “All of our schools have individual safety plans that are annually updated, and all meet or exceed state requirements and have been approved by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.”
The superintendent listed some of those measures, including policies requiring all exterior doors be locked at all times except those that provide direct access to the front office.
He also shared a few suggestions from the American School Counselor Association on how to help children cope during this difficult time, including keeping routine schedules, limiting exposure to television and the news and listening to children’s fears and concerns.
Jacoby said all district principals were provided with guidance from CCSD on operations for this week on Sunday, which included the importance of hearing the concerns of parents and guardians.
“Such concerns are considered by principals when updating individual school safety plans, which are reviewed annually,” Jacoby said. “Parents and guardians with concerns are asked to share them with the principal of their child’s school.”