Tri-County Schools Hope for Best, Prepare for Worst

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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News outlet headlines have focused on the tragedy of school shootings around the country. The latest at the Covenant School, a private Christian school in neighboring Tennessee, ended with three children and three adults being killed. 

While national authorities try to figure out why such mass murders are happening, local law enforcement and school officials are studying and implementing protocols to keep tri-county schools as safe as possible. 

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West met with Lowndes County Board of Education officials on April 10 discussing strategies and making plans.

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“While we don’t want anything to happen in our schools, I want us to prepare for the possibility,” said West.

Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Jason Burroughs said school safety is a top priority.

“One of the first things that we did at each school was arrange a single point of entry with doors controlled by the office staff. We have recently added metal detectors. We take many steps, but we don’t want to share too much of our safety protocols,” said Burroughs.

In June and July, the Sheriff’s Department will hold a series of active shooter training exercises.  Lieutenant Nick Cognasi said the focus of those exercises will be making sure all entities are on the same page.

“We are integrating ourselves into the board’s policy for active shooter threats,” Cognasi said. “The schools run drills monthly, but they do not include the sheriff’s office. So, we are wanting to incorporate ourselves into those drills so that they will know what the sheriff’s office is doing and why we are doing it.” 

West’s office is also working with Lowndes Academy, helping them step up their safety measures.

“Sheriff West is a real advocate for schools, and he helped us acquire a school resources person for security. Our board has also hired our own security officer,” said Lowndes Headmaster Garry Mohun.

He added that Lowndes has also conferred with security firms. 

“We have had people come in and give us advice on security updates,” Mohun said.  “Our board has been supportive of anything we have to do to upgrade for safety. For us it is something that we are constantly looking at and updating.”

Cognasi said the department will coordinate lockdown procedures, and school evacuations so that school officials and law enforcement are utilizing the same plan. Parents will be notified well in advance of the school drills to prevent alarm and confusion.

“We are trying to work very closely with what they [the schools] have in place and what we have in place. We can see what we need to shore up research and response,” Cognasi said. “Sheriff West has taken the initiative to have meetings with not only the board of education, but also with businesses around the county training for possible occurrences of workplace violence.”

Greenville Police Chief Justin Lovvorn said working towards safety in schools, and in other public areas, means being prepared for a threat. 

“We train our people on a regular basis,” Lovvorn said. Lovvorn recently met with the Greenville Board of Education Superintendent to discuss their next in school active shooter drills. While did not want to share specifics for safety reasons, Lovvorn said there is constant work involved in 

Crenshaw Christian Academy (CCA) Head Mistress Becky Baggett said Alabama schools have been blessed not to experience this type of situation.

Baggett is working with law enforcement on a safety plan, but she is holding details about those plans close to her vest.

“We have a safety plan, but we don’t discuss it because we don’t want people to know what we’re doing.  We had a company come in and train our faculty and staff in some ways to be more alert and better prepared.  We hold practice drills,” said Baggett.

Baggett’s team meets with the Crenshaw County Sheriff’s Department, Luverne Police Department, and Crenshaw County’s Emergency Management Agency to work on safety and make sure the agencies are all familiar with CCA’s plans and school layout.

Crenshaw County Sheriff Terry Mears said his goal is to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to training and teamwork.

“We work with the county commission and the school board in putting our plans together. Right now, Brantley Municipality provides [safety training] for Brantley, Luverne provides for Luvene School and Crenshaw Christian Academy, and we cover Highland Home School.

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Sergeant Jeremy Burkett said that while Alabama residents know some of what lawmen do when fighting crime, the planning and training to keep the public safe from active shooters is not public knowledge.

“We are here and become involved with local law enforcement in training and planning to keep the schools safe,” Burkett said. “And also, in a broader sense, when we train for active shooters, we train for everybody. We may have requests from an agency or a local school board, and those are the things that we can’t talk about to protect those groups.” 

West and Mears agreed that being ready is key. “I want us to be prepared for the possibility.  If something does happen, we can stand at the mike in a press conference and say that we saw what was going on across the county, and this is what we did in preparation to mitigate loss.”