Federal grant helps schools address safety concerns

Keeping your kids safe at school
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 5:58 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2023 at 11:23 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – More than $4 million was divided among 10 schools in Alabama to address safety concerns including weapons on campus, outdated security plans and inefficient communications systems. Those concerns laid out in applications for the COPS Office School Violence Prevention Program grant, obtained and reviewed by WBRC through a federal records request.

As part of the 2021 award, Pelham City Schools received $499,110. A majority of that was used to purchase a districtwide crisis alert system.

“It looks like a simple badge that you would press based on the emergency,” explained Floyd Collins, Assistant Superintendent, Pelham City Schools.

Every district employee, more than 350 people, has a Centegix Crisis Alert badge.

Help is just a series of clicks away.

“That could be something as a student has a medical emergency and you need assistance here at the classroom, or out on the playground,” said Collins.

Calls of that nature stay within the school, with an alert including the teacher’s name and location requesting help, shared with the administration staff, school resource officer and school nurse.

“In the event of a lockdown or a more severe emergency notification, [the message] would go directly to our first responders and police department,” said Collins.

Another districtwide upgrade purchased through this funding was online training.

“Not only school shooters but medical emergencies, how to manage difficult and conflict resolutions, training for engaging and interacting with students in a positive manner, so there is an array of trainings through this online training platform,” explained Collins.

The remining SVPP grant money was used to install a new intercom system at Pelham Ridge Elementary School, replacing one district leaders described as “archaic” in the grant application.

“A teacher or other school attendee will be unaware of an emergency if these systems are not upgraded,” leaders wrote.

Collins said the new system has “met a need” and greatly improved mass communication within the school.

“Absolutely, without question.”

He added, “School safety is so critical, even for student achievement and learning. You can’t learn or work in an environment where you don’t feel safe, and when you have that assurance to know that in the event of an emergency you have the necessary support to ensure that safety, you know, that’s very, very important.”

Walker County Schools received more than $460,000 of SVPP grant money. That funding has been used to purchase new surveillance cameras on school buses and new door knobs in several schools, including Bankhead Middle School.

“What really concerns us about some of the doors that we have in the schools in our system, is that they only lock on the outside,” said Superintendent Dennis Willingham, Walker County Schools.

He continued, “If we were to have an emergency situation with a lockdown, the teachers would have to open their door, which presents a problem, and they would have to lock their door with a key from the outside, and then have to close their door again.”

Principal Amber Freeman demonstrated the process and the concern for WBRC.

“The teacher would have to go outside, take their key, go out here in the hallway, lock their door down, and that exposes them to any dangers that may or may not be in the hallway.”

“When you are in an emergency situation every second counts. And anything that we can do to help further protect our children, we are going to do that,” explained Dr. Willingham.

He added, “It’s even hard to say that people want to hurt kids. And you know, I tell our teachers and administrators, our stakeholders when I meet with them, I say, ‘If people are going to hurt kids, they are going to hurt kids,’ but it is our job to make sure that we do everything within our power to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

Hale County Schools received almost $500,000 in SVPP funds. WBRC’s questions about how that money was spent have not been answered but according to the application, these funds were requested for security cameras, a crisis alert system and new intercoms.

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