Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk says he will hire four new staff members to improve “the climate and safety” at Tates Creek High School, where three separate students recently brought guns in a 12-day period.
Caulk said the new employees will not be law enforcement officers, but will work with students and families in a strategy to make Tates Creek safer.
That means the staff members will be an extension of law enforcement and also will help school administrators and school leaders with student safety issues, he said.
Caulk talked to the Herald-Leader after Monday’s school board meeting in response to comments made by Tates Creek High School parent Robert Simmons. Simmons told Caulk and board members he was concerned by the three guns students brought to Tates Creek in November, two of them loaded, and by the shooting death of a 17-year-old, David Fletcher Jones, on Friday in a neighborhood near Tates Creek High School. Jones was not enrolled as a student in Fayette County Public Schools, said spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. Deffendall did not know if he was enrolled in another district. A juvenile has been charged with murder in his death.
In the gun incidents at the school, three students have been criminally charged after taking guns to school. Two of those students were spotted as truants by police officers and taken to school. School officials say that it’s not just an issue for Tates Creek High School, but also for the surrounding neighborhood. Lexington Police Assistant Chief Shawn Coleman said the department has stepped up police presence and visibility with increased patrols in the Tates Creek area. That includes bringing the department’s mounted unit to the area surrounding the high school campus, since officers on horseback tend to be more noticeable than officers in patrol cars.
At the school board meeting, Simmons thanked Caulk for addressing the gun issue and asked Caulk several pointed questions about Caulk’s plan to institute random checks with portable metal detector machines at all Fayette County high schools.
“How do we keep guns out of our schools and make sure that threat doesn’t come so close to our children?” he asked.
Simmons wanted to know specifics about numbers of metal detectors and law enforcement officers at Tates Creek High and which students would be subjected to the metal detector checks.
Caulk said in an interview that he has a goal of screening all students entering all Fayette County high school buildings on random days of the week. He wants to move students through the detectors in a way that ensures school safety but doesn’t delay the start of the school day.
“Obviously there are challenges,” he said. “You would have to have controlled points of entry,” he said. District officials are developing a plan.
At the board meeting, Caulk mentioned several public places such as airports or the state capitol where metal detectors are the norm and said while it could be considered minimally intrusive “the safety of our students, teachers and staff supersedes that.”
The school district currently uses portable metal detectors.
Caulk said if, at a given Fayette County high school, administrators, the school council, parents and students want to use the strategy of having permanent metal detectors, the district would support implementing that. He said permanent metal detectors have been used in out-of-state school districts where he has worked.
Elsewhere in Kentucky, Jefferson County Public Schools use metal detectors at alternative schools where students have been sent for disciplinary reasons, Jefferson spokeswoman Allison Martin said. All students are also screened for weapons at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, Fayette County’s alternative school for students with disciplinary referrals, Caulk said at the school board meeting.
In Lexington, Caulk said, “we have some families that are in crisis and some of our communities are distressed.”
He wants to “uplift and strengthen families” as part of a five-pronged approach to make Fayette high schools safer. Caulk says that his plan involves students, families, staff, law enforcement and community.
Caulk has said that school safety is everyone’s business and if students have strong relationships with school staff and families are more involved with monitoring what students take to school, he thinks it will help.
In an effort to help keep guns out of kids’ hands, Lexington police are working with community leaders and school law enforcement to find solutions. Lexington police officers have visited schools to build relationships and educate students about guns, Coleman, the assistant chief, said.
The firearms being carried by juveniles and others in the area do not appear to be coming from one place in particular, Coleman said. In most cases, the handguns have been given to the juveniles or sold to them by someone they know.
It’s difficult to track exactly where the guns are coming from because many of them have been reported stolen before they were given to or sold to people in the area, Coleman said.