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MDE officials reviewing safety policies

January 5, 2013

By CARL SMITH
news@starkvilledailynews.com

Mississippi Department of Education officials say the state school system is reviewing safety procedures following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

Shane McNeil, a school safety director with MDE, says the organization is reviewing policies and training requirements related to school safety. MDE, he said, is exploring expanding minimum safety requirements for all Mississippi public schools.

A timetable for the study’s completion was not available Friday.
“We’re looking at all possibilities to … maximize all resources to ensure every child remains safe at school,” McNeil said. “Every school is required to have a school safety plan. That plan has to be approved by local school boards on an annual basis. The department of education provides a template for the development of those plans, but (school officials) should be meeting with local authorities and making unique plans.”

Any proposed changes will be reviewed and could be approved through the state board of education, he said, thereby becoming part of minimum safety requirements.

“We’re just trying to be as proactive as possible to ensure compliance with existing policies as well as reviewing additional possibilities to expand current school safety measures,” McNeil said.

Following the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., many school districts across the country began reviewing their own school safety plans, policies and procedures.

Officials from both Starkville School District and Oktibbeha County School District responded by practicing drills, evaluating crisis management plans and taking other measures to ensure safety at their own campuses.

Neither district has announced any changes to their safety policies.
Diane Baker and Lisa Thompson, principals of two SSD elementary schools, said returning their students to a sense of normalcy in the classrooms was their primary goal on Dec. 16, the first regular school day following the Sandy Hook shootings. Both said counseling services were available to students and teachers, and each campus was double checked by security officials.

Although the county school district does not have its own dedicated security force, it does have an arrangement with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department, whose representatives check each of the schools daily.

SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway personally observed many of the district’s kindergarten classes that day as students and teachers went on with their usual routines.

The city school district also sent an AlertNow email to all employees and parents that day saying SSD is renewing its collaborative efforts with local agencies to create a united effort for school safety.

“While law enforcement officials believe this is an isolated incident, it is a stark reminder of the importance of our safety procedures,” the AlertNow email stated, “... and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety of your child every day.”

“Our schools are sometimes the safest place our kids are at all day,” Holloway said in December. “We take pride in that.”

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