By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Democrats held a press conference on Tuesday addressing concerns about student safety in public schools. They expressed an intent to introduce new legislation or add legislation to an existing bill to see that some form of School Safety Officers (SRO) will be present on campus during the school day.
Senator Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) said, “We are going to try to introduce new legislation or tag another bill that is moving through the process with an amendment to increase safety in our schools.”
Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) sponsored HB116 addressing the school safety issue. The bill passed both the House and the Senate without a dissenting vote only to be vetoed by the Governor saying that he did not feel it specified training requirements. When Morrow reintroduced the bill to the House for a vote to override the Governor’s veto the motion was defeated. Morrow said that is when it became political since all of the House Republicans voted against overturning the veto while Democrats voted in favor. Morrow said that had the Governor added an executive amendment he would have gladly accepted it.
Since then, Franklin County School Superintendent Gary Williams has written a letter to Morrow expressing concern about his school system and its vulnerability. He said that for any of his seven public schools, law enforcement is a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes away. Since many of his schools are rural, he said that it puts them at a higher risk. In his letter he said, “The citizens of Franklin County are demanding that we improve our safety and emergency plans after the tragic events that took place in Connecticut.”
He expressed that he was “very discouraged” that Governor Bentley had vetoed the bill. Williams said that while he did not agree that every school employee should be armed, he did feel that “We can find a few that would be capable of going through the training that would be required and would be able to respond positively in an emergency situation.” He concluded his letter asking for the advice of the Governor.
In the meeting, Williams said, “I feel helpless.” In his letter as well as in his speech, Williams described a scenario which he is concerned that could happen in one of his schools. “If an intruder is seen on this campus we would go into a ‘hard lockdown’ meaning that our students would get into a room, sit against the walls with their head between their knees after locking the doors.” He further expressed what type of terror the students would be placed in as they waited for the “shooter” to get to their room and how long they would have to wait for assistance.
Bedford said, “If the state won’t do it then the state should allow the locals to decide how best to secure their schools and make it safe for our children.”
Morrow said during the meeting that the Statehouse estimates there are 55,000 “pass-throughs” per year and it staffs 19 security officers during session. He compared Franklin County Schools estimated 1,090,080 pass-throughs per year with no security staff. He further pointed out that Franklin County Schools have 3301 students that have no protection while information he acquired from the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the Governor’s security detail costs at $3,31,152.90.
He then pointed out that the Governor’s 2014 budget proposal did not include any funding for school resource officers (SRO) statewide.
Alicia Cooper, a second grade teacher at Phil Campbell, said that safety is constantly on her students’ minds. She said that the students (7- and 8-years olds) are saying that they can bring their own guns to school to protect themselves and others.
“Safety has to be a key issue with our schools. We pray that the tragedies that have happened across this nation will happen in rural Alabama, but the threat is there,” said Bedford.
In a letter to the Governor, Morrow called for the Governor to dismiss his security personnel until Alabama students are protected, citing the Governor’s commitment to not take a salary until Alabama’s unemployment rate reached zero.
Morrow and Bedford said that the new legislation addresses the Governor’s concerns.