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DeKalb incident reminder for schools to stay diligent on safety precautions

Tuesday’s shooting incident at a Decatur elementary school was another reminder for school officials to review their safety and security plans.

On Wednesday, Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies arrested a man they said was armed with three knives and a BB gun that resembled a semi-automatic handgun outside Cherokee Charter Academy at about 7:30 a.m.

For many school officials in Gwinnett and Barrow counties, reviewing safety plans has become routine, and they’ve done it several times since December following a shooting incident in Newtown, Conn. Local law enforcement agencies have supported the schools, which in some cases have added safety drills for potential emergencies.

Gwinnett County Public Schools spokesman Jorge Quintana said the Board of Education approved plans in May for the district to hire about 18 more school resource officers — one more per cluster — as part of the fiscal year 2014 budget. Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks created a task force following the Newtown incident to review the district’s safety processes and procedures. Hiring the additional SROs came from the task force’s meetings.

“We heard it very loud and clear from our parents that they wanted an additional police presence,” Quintana said.

Quintana said the district has hired six of the new officers, and they will go through a training period in the coming weeks. The school district received more than 100 applications and interviewed more than 60 candidates, he said.

Roberts Elementary Principal Dion Jones said all of the doors at his school are locked during the day, as they are across GCPS, except for the front doors, where someone is stationed at a check-in desk. Jones said Gwinnett County Police officers were at Roberts on Tuesday until the end of the day as a precaution.

“We try not to make the place feel like a prison, but at the same time we want our staff and students to be safe,” Jones said. “It’s constantly on our radar.”

Ken Greene, assistant superintendent for system operations at Barrow County Schools, said his district routinely reviews safety plans before each school year, and reviewed them following the Newtown incident. Greene said Barrow schools would follow the Decatur incident, and adjust their plans based on anything else learned from it. Barrow school officials also worked with local law enforcement and monitored the situation the rest of Tuesday.

Jones was among local principals who wrote letters to parents following the Newtown incident to remind them to check in at the front desk. In December, Riverside Elementary Principal Craig Barlow wrote to parents to remind them that counselors are available to discuss incidents with students, who may be confused or worried about information they see in the news media.