Huntsville City Schools exploring future of security and school safety

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Because the tragic school shooting in Florida resonates in the hearts of people across the Tennessee Valley, Huntsville City Schools leaders want parents to know how much they care.

"You bet it touches us," commented Al Lankford, Security Operations Coordinator for the district. "We do everything possible every day to make sure we are employing the best candidates possible for campus security officers."

Huntsville City Schools has more than 50 CSO's who ensure safety, reduce classroom disruptions, assist administrators to enforce school policy, mentor students, and de-escalate disruptive behavior. The CSO's go through a screening process before they're hired.

Some CSO's roam the halls, and others work in security offices where they view cameras throughout the schools and campuses.

Huntsville Police also provide school resource officers to the district to enforce the law. They protect the campus from violent intruders and mentor students, making a point to connect with the children. Officers say great care is taken to place an officer on a campus in a way that fits with the students who go there.

When asked about the recent lawmakers' proposal to arm teachers and school staff who volunteer to carry weapons, Lankford said he would advise against it.

"My take on that is we have a fine police department here in Huntsville. Qualified. Their academy is one of the top in the nation. I did research on that. We have a lot of individuals who would love to be SRO's. Trained individuals. Law enforcement would be the ideal situation," he maintained. "They're going to know when to pull the gun. They're going to know when to go into defense. We don't want to put that burden on people who are not properly trained."

Police advised the school board this week that extra training would definitely be needed if this is a route the board chooses to take. They recommend something similar, but not as intense as what the police academy provides. The captain noted that it would be difficult to do.

Board member Michelle Watkins asked security staff whether metal detectors would be appropriate. She said some parents had asked her about that.

Lankford said it depends on the size of the school in terms of population, the cost of the equipment, and the amount of staffing it would take to man the metal detectors each day.

Attorneys also advised against "random" backpack searches and instead advocated for "reasonable suspicion" searches. Parents may notice students participating in more active shooter/intruder drills, though.

"We are going to have each school also conduct another drill so the awareness is there," one official said. "Practice it again. You can never practice too much."

The board members say many options are on the table, including amendments to the Behavioral Learning Guides. These ideas are being considered with proper research and discussion.

If you hear of a problem or want to make a tip anonymously to the school district, click here for the district's Anonymous Alerts.