‘Time for action.’ More metal detectors among safety changes coming to Fayette schools

More hand-held metal detectors, more locked doors and increased emergency drills are among the new safety measures that Fayette County Schools are implementing as the nation focuses on school safety, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk announced Thursday.

Caulk said he is also establishing a new safety advisory panel that will revisit the idea of stationary metal detectors in Fayette schools as part of making recommendations for improvements. But he said there is more to be done beyond the district, and he called on Gov. Matt Bevin to look at the issue of school safety “systemically across the state.”

“The safety of a child’s learning experience shouldn’t depend on where you reside, what district you are in, what community you are in,” Caulk said. “Every child deserves to learn in a safe environment. We should be having statewide conversations about what’s best practice around safety and security and follow through with recommendations with funding.”

Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to Caulk’s comments.

“As a father and as your servant superintendent, I join you in grief and outrage regarding the unspeakable acts of violence against students and school employees these past few weeks,” Caulk told school and city officials gathered Thursday for his announcement. “Our hearts are broken as we unite with compassion for those directly impacted, but thoughts and prayers are not enough. The time for action is now.”

Caulk said after the most recent school shootings at Marshall County High School in Benton and at a high school in Parkland, Fla. ,students, staff and families in Lexington “have expressed widespread anxiety and concern,” asked about current safeguards and suggested additional steps

Caulk said the district will take the following immediate steps to strengthen existing efforts:

▪  Anonymous tip lines will be expanded to include elementary schools and the district overall.

▪ Hand-held metal detector wands will be provided to all special programs and middle schools. All secondary schools will be required to use these wands more frequently.

▪ Schools will reinforce the importance of locking all exterior doors and work with students, staff and volunteers to ensure that doors are not propped open or opened for visitors. Middle and high schools without secured vestibules will be provided an additional staff member to monitor school entrances and support the school safety plan

▪ Law enforcement schedules will be adjusted to provide additional presence in special programs and middle schools.

▪ Emergency drills will be expanded to ensure students and staff are prepared to go into lockdown throughout the school day, including lunch, recess, between classes, and at the beginning and end of the school day.

▪ Within the next two weeks, the district will implement an enhanced emergency notification system for families, staff and students

“We also have to be forward-thinking and proactive about next steps,” Caulk said. He said the District School Safety Advisory Council will tackle safety issues immediately.

“We have taken precautions and developed plans, but it is time to have some honest and open dialogue about what else we can do,” he said. “We have to be willing to do what’s uncomfortable.”

This council will be comprised of students, teacher, parents, principals, district officials, city representatives and community, business and faith leaders. The public is invited to the group’s first meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Knowing that some recommendations may require legislative change, the group will finish the first week of April in order to give members of the General Assembly time to review and act upon those before they go home on April 13, he said.

Caulk said there are 35 officers currently on the district’s law enforcement force with teams stationed in each high school and assigned to regularly patrol elementary and middle schools in order to provide a strengthened police presence on campuses. He said there are 67 schools and program, and he would like to have a law enforcement officer in each.

Mayor Jim Gray, who was at Caulk’s news conference Thursday, said the city stood ready to offer the help of Lexington police officers. If school district officials and the advisory council decided that stationary metal detectors would benefit schools, Gray said he would ask the city council to provide funds. Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt has also offered her deputies to help in staffing Fayette schools.

In August, the FBI will be training Fayette County Department of Law Enforcement officers and others in the federally approved “Run, Hide, Fight” techniques. District officers will train school administrators and employees and then those strategies will be implemented with students.

Caulk also announced that with district law enforcement director Lawrence Weathers being named Lexington's new chief of police, Martin Schafer will become the school district's interim chief. Schafer, a former Kentucky State Police officer, has been on the district’s force since 2012.

Both Gray and Caulk said they thought that it was a better idea to have an increased presence of trained law enforcement officers who are armed on campuses than to arm teachers, an idea that some lawmakers have recommended.

“We remain committed to ensuring that our schools are the safest places in our community.” Caulk said. “ I promise that we will continue to be vigilant and proactive because no child should go to school in fear, and every family should welcome their children home at the end of the school day.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

Fayette County Public Schools officials are encouraging people to call 859-381-4200 to report anything suspicious, whether it’s a comment or post on social media, a conversation overheard, or a child’s remark at the dinner table about something another student said at school.