Students at Marshall County High School and the district's two middle schools will no longer be allowed to bring backpacks to school, the district's superintendent announced this week.
The new procedures and security upgrades are in response to January's mass shooting, when a then 15-year-old student allegedly entered the school and opened fire, killing two 15-year-old classmates. Roughly two dozen students, many of them shot, were injured in the shooting.
After the shooting, Marshall County Superintendent Trent Lovett said he met with the students and parents to ask how they would feel more safe. The next day, the school's teachers and administrators began checking backpacks when students entered the building. A few days later, 10 metal detector wands were ordered and the school began using them on students daily. Those practices later trickled down to the middle school.
The District Safety Committee, which includes students, teachers, administrators, and parents, met Monday and decided on yet more security upgrades that Lovett hopes will appeal to students, as well as teachers and administrators.
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Walk-through metal detectors will be put at the eight entrances of the high school and the entrances to the two middle schools, which will do away with the wands. The district will also go from one resource officer to five, including three at the high school. Tuesday afternoon, the Marshall County Sheriff's Office said it is hiring in order to increase its presence in the Marshall County School system.
All district schools will also receive additional and/or updated camera systems.
But perhaps the most notable change in the security policies is a no-backpack policy.
"There will be some who won't be too happy with it and some who will be happy," Lovett said. "They were the ones who suggested we search the book bags because that was their No. 1 fear. So if we eliminate the book bags, students won't carry around such a big load, and they can't transport anything in there like pills or tobacco products . . . and the manpower it took the last half of the year to do all the searches is not something we could sustain."
Most high school classes no longer use textbooks (which is typical in some schools throughout the state), said Lovett. Lockers will be strategically placed near the students' second and third-block classes.
Purses will be limited to a size not-yet determined. Gym bags will be allowed, but they have to be taken in through the metal detector. In addition to the new rules at the high and middle schools, elementary school students within the district will only be allowed to carry clear or mesh backpacks, according to the superintendent.
"We just want to make the schools as safe as we possibly can," Lovett said. "I wish we could guarantee something like that will never happen again but I can't do it. We want these students to feel safe and we are doing everything we can to ensure that."
The new procedures take effect with the 2018-19 school year.
In a message sent to parents, Lovett said he hopes the updated procedures will inspire confidence.
"We take our responsibility to our students and staff seriously. Although we know that no plan can be perfect and that no building is without flaws, we as a group are confident that these changes will be effective," he said. "We hope that this update will give you that confidence as well."
As Lovett expected, there have been mixed emotions about the new security procedures. Taylor Feezor said, "I get it, kids could still find a way to take a weapon into the school. But there will be no way to 100 percent stop them, so taking all precautions will help reduce the likelihood of it."
But Dave Watson said, "Clear and mesh backpacks will do nothing except break. Any semi-smart person, especially a mentally disturbed one, can bypass these measures. Also, lines waiting for security checks are a 'target rich environment' that falls outside the security cordon. All they are doing is moving the shooting location to outside the front door."