Jury: Schools must combat gangs, drugs

LAWRENCEVILLE - A grand jury has recommended the Gwinnett County Board of Education take proactive measures - such as hiring additional school resource officers - to prevent gang activity and drug use in schools.

Specifically, the grand jury suggested the school board add 10 school resource officers to its police force and "fund whatever means necessary to get information to parents which is timely and accurate with regards to drugs, gangs, violence or any other issues which affect our children," according to presentments released this week.

But two school board members said they feel the school system already takes proactive measures to provide a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning.

Mary Kay Murphy, who represents District 3,

said school resource officers work closely with law enforcement officers who study gang activity. The discipline coordinators for each cluster, as well as administrators, are also expected to stay informed about gangs' colors and recognition symbols. The school system also provides information sessions for parents to learn about the signs of gang activity.

While Murphy acknowledged there are gang members and drugs in schools, she stressed that gang activity and drug use are not tolerated.

"I'm not sure that it's a fair and accurate thing to say that the schools have a gang problem," she said.

Drugs and gangs are not problems that are unique to Gwinnett County, and they are issues that pose a challenge to public education, Murphy said.

Louise Radloff, who represents District 5, agreed.

"This is a community issue, and we need to stand together," Radloff said. "Only by coming together can we wipe it out, and even then it would be very difficult, because there are some things out of our control."

Radloff said she's not sure what else the school system can do to combat drugs and violence, other than working more closely with other community agencies. Though she's willing to consider adding additional school resource officers, she said she's not convinced that an increased police presence will stop incidents from happening.

In a statement provided to the Post, Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said he will give the grand jury's recommendations "the attention they deserve and warrant.

"The recommendation for additional SROs is under consideration and will be assessed through our continuous improvement and budget processes," Wilbanks wrote. "I contend, however, that adding SROs to schools will not address a gang problem in surrounding communities. The facts are clear that there have been relatively few instances where gang activity was a problem during school hours."

Wilbanks said he spoke to the grand jury in November after he was asked to provide information about the school system's overall strategy of dealing with gang activity. In his written statement, he said he gave the grand jury "a copy of a very comprehensive presentation on gangs, gang dress and gang signs that is used by our schools.

"If the grand jury has information that indicates that there are schools that need more on this topic, we can provide additional training to those identified schools," he wrote, adding, "The Board of Education and I are committed to ensuring our schools and campuses are safe and orderly. We fully understand that is an awesome responsibility, one that we never forget or take lightly."