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School officials review security plans

School security is on the minds of Grady County educators days after the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 26 were killed including 20 children.
School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis said he told the principals of the county’s seven schools to conduct school as they saw fit this week.
“Everybody reviewed their plans and everybody’s aware,” Pharis said, “those principals are certainly safety conscious. That’s their number one job, and they’re doing their job.”
At Washington Middle School, Principal Dr. Kermit Gilliard said he made sure his campus was secure by locking all gates enclosing the school. Then, during a regularly scheduled team leader meeting Monday, Gilliard said the majority of the time was spent reviewing the school’s safety plan. “There are things in the plan we plan on rewriting, and this brings new focus to it,” he said.
Since Friday, parents have also contacted schools asking about security. At Whigham School, Principal Demetrius Cox said she plans to conduct a drill Wednesday to make sure students and faculty alike remember what they should do in the event of a lockdown. Mrs. Cox said she and the staff will then review their plans and see what improvements they can make. “You’re not just talking about guns here, but talking about everything you have to do to keep kids safe all day long. I would hope our teachers and I would all have that kind of courage (displayed by the educators in Newtown). You think of the people across our country who have to have courage. It makes you pause and be thankful to be in this community.”
At Southside School, volunteers have taken it upon themselves this week to make sure they check in with the front office and obtain a visitor’s pass. “We have two grandparents who usually park in the back and volunteer, but they made a point of coming up front to get a visitor’s pass,” said Southside Principal Lateesha Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton said Southside will hold a lockdown drill in January after students and faculty return from the Christmas break.
All schools are required to hold monthly fire drills and at least one tornado drill each year.
At all schools, counselors are prepared to talk with students if they have concerns about the Newtown tragedy. Mental health is another aspect of education schools must address, Dr. Pharis said. “There are other issues than just locking doors. Troubled children and adults – what’s our role there?” Pharis said that would be a question county school leaders will consider in coming months. “It’s just an overwhelming task, and we certainly are going to continually have safety and security on our minds. It has to be top priority all the time.”
Cairo and Whigham Police and Grady County Sheriff’s Department are also helping by stepping up patrols at the schools, according to principals.

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