Mobile-area school administrators look to prevent ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’

In era of mass shootings, school systems on both sides of Mobile Bay are beefing up security
Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 5:47 PM CDT
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SARALAND, Ala. (WALA) - The Board of Education here adopted a resolution Tuesday authorizing security improvements designed to better control access to the city system’s four school buildings.

The Saraland City Schools are not alone. As a new school year rapidly approaches – the start date is Aug. 8 in Saraland – administrators on both sides of Mobile Bay are grappling with ways to better prevent an event that keeps them up at night.

“It is every parent’s nightmare and educator’s nightmare,” said Aaron Milner, the Saraland school system’s superintendent. “We got into this business because we care about children.”

The issue has become more acute since May, when a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and injured two teachers. Local superintendents have had the summer to contemplate the security of their own schools.

Milner said the security upgrades will help make sure that “with the multitudes of people that come in and out of the schools that they are directed in a certain area, and at the same time, if necessary, be able to lock the building down quickly and efficiently.”

School shootings are not a new problem, and Milner said the system is not starting from scratch. He said the school system has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security improvements over the past few years. He added that the system has armed school resource officers in the schools and that in addition, other officers from the Saraland Police Department make random visits throughout the day.

“Our number one goal, even above instruction, is the protection and the safety of our children,” he told FOX10 News.

The Mobile County Board of Education met Monday to discuss a number of options, including arming the resource officers, hiring more of them and applying for grants to pay for new equipment.

“We’re still researching some of the possibilities that we’ve discussed,” school system spokeswoman Rena Philips said.

Philips said the system currently has 14 resource officers, at least one for each of its 12 feeder patterns, and is looking to hire at least one more. She said they are not current police officers and have broader responsibilities than a traditional school resource officer employed by a police department. The school system officers must have four-year college degrees and a minimum of five years of law enforcement experience, among other requirements.

“We have a very good security plan, and we’re always looking at ways to improve it,” Philips said.

The Baldwin County school system is one of the few county systems in the state to have at least one school resource officer in every school. Some schools have more than one. These are trained police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

System spokeswoman Chasity Riddick told FOX10 News that the buildings have locking mechanisms and the front door to control access. She added that the system is working on improving those security measures but isn’t yet ready to provide details.

The odds of a shooting at any particular school remains small, but Superintendent Milner has experience with rare events. He was an assistant principal in Enterprise, Alabama, when a tornado killed eight students in 2007.

“My wife and son were in the elementary school that was destroyed next to it,” he said. “Luckily they were they were safe.”

Milner told FOX10 News that the experience taught him to take even seemingly remote threats seriously.

“I think we’re gonna always err on the side of, how can we do our best to keep them safe, within reason?”

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