The WBR School Board’s committees met Monday evening, January 14, where they began a discussion on issues of security within parish schools.
The school board’s Academic Committee met, along with law enforcement officials and school principals from each of the parish schools and Holy Family School, to discuss school security following the devastating actions in Newtown, Conn., on December 2012 where 26 people were killed, including 20 children, before the gunman killed himself during a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
During the committee meeting, WBR Sheriff’s Office Major Jerome Fontenot, head of the parish’s crisis response team, addressed the board and audience, saying that the sheriff’s office has taken steps of precaution following the events in Connecticut, and leading a the discussion on what can be done in schools going forward.
“If an incident took place at (any WBR) school, the Crisis Response Team would probably be a secondary way to go in,” Fontenot explained. “It would take, probably, 30 minutes to mobilize my unit – to get them outfitted to go in. Once they go in, they can remedy the situation.”
Fontenot said that first responders would be the first law enforcement officers called on scene, but the “primary deterrence is going to be vigilance of the teachers and staff at the school.”
He said that the WBR school system should prepare for a worst-case scenario.
“It’s not an isolated deal – it’s all over the place. And we’re close enough to a large populated area – you just have to be vigilant. I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said.
Fontenot said that he believes it is important that plans be set in place for emergencies such as a possible shooter on a school’s campus, but it is imperative that teachers and staff understand that they may have to alter the plan, depending on the situation.
“You cannot take your plan and put it in concrete,” Fontenot said during the meeting. “You have to have a plan, don’t get me wrong. But you have to be able to allow the teachers to think, as we say, think out of the box.
“It may be better for them, instead of locking down in a classroom… to get out of it and move to another area. You have to afford them some type of flexibility to be able to move for the situation, because every situation is going to be different. And every incident is different. You have to give them the flexibility to be able to move and adapt to what’s going on at that time.”
David Corona, WBR Schools Superintendent, agreed saying that he believed “the options of getting away from a situation have a lot of merit.”
Corona echoed many, saying that he understood that if a gunman comes into a school with intentions of harm doing, they will, in fact, do harm.
“There is no question that time is of the essence and options for people, potential victims, is important,” he said.
Charlotte Blanchard, WBR supervisor of child welfare and attendance, said that each school has a separate plan of action, which were developed at each of the sites.
“There may be differences at each school depending on the different aspects of that school campus,” she said, adding that she though it would help to have law enforcement’s input in looking at the plans.
WBR School Board President Jason Manola said he agreed that the school system’s current plans should be looked at by law enforcement officials to assure they are the best they can be.
“I’d like to look at getting someone to come in and do an analysis of our schools… basically to revisit it, to see if there’s anything we can do to improve the situations at all of our different schools,” Manola said. “This is going to be specifically tailored to each individual school, there’s going to be some differences out there, we know that. So it can’t be just one parish wide plan.”
Manola said that he wanted to make sure that the board budgets money to train staff and teachers to know, for sure, what the emergency plan is.
School board member Mike Moranto said that he believed one solution could be allowing staff members to carry concealed weapons.
“I’m really out the box. I think if we have highly qualified people who could pack a gun in our school, we should have them do that,” Moranto said. “I don’t have any problem with that because I think that will stop something pretty quick and will give (law enforcement officers) a chance to get to these campuses and do what they’ve got to do.”
But Moranto’s thoughts were met with opposition when Carnell Washington, retired EBR Parish educator, spoke.
“I would have a problem… in my classroom, walking around with a 9mm in my pocket wondering if some kid was going to take it off of me,” he said. “Teachers are nurturers of kids. By nature we protect and we deliver that service. Teachers do not want now to be the police officer in the classroom. It’s too much responsibility. Too many things can happen. I think no school system should consider that.”
Washington, who is the president of the EBR Federation of Teachers, said that he would like to see better security measures to begin with.
“It’s better to pay for better security up front, than to pay for it later with kids’ lives,” he said. “I think seeking federal dollars, putting away our political ideologies for the protection of our children and the people in those buildings are much more important first.”
Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown said that along with having a plan of action, he thought that teachers would be pertinent in preventing an act of violence before it takes place.
“I think the teachers are really important in this matter. Watching and listening to what the kids are saying,” he said. “The teachers are the first line. They need to have their ears and eyes opened, because most of the time when someone is doing something like this, they’re giving signs, and (teachers) are going to have to pick those signs up, and they could prevent an incident from happening.”
Deano Moran, WBR Homeland Security Chief, said that he wanted to put together atask force comprised of at least one officer from each law enforcement department in the parish.
“The three (municipalities) and the sheriff’s office are working very closely,” he said, adding that if anything happens within the schools, “we’re all coming together.”
Fontenot told the board that he would contact all of the agency heads to explain what they wanted to do and ask them to choose an individual to participate in the task force.
Manola made a formal motion that “the superintendent meet with law enforcement to renew each of our emergency plans at each of our schools and to come back with a recommendation to the administration on what needs to be done. And also, as part of that evaluation, give us some guidance on training for our teachers and for our staff.”
The motion was passed unanimously.
Corona said that further discussions on the state of security in the schools in West Baton Rouge Parish would take place in later meetings.