School security and safety are constant thoughts in area districts

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Student and faculty safety is the highest priority, Superintendent Matt Akin of Huntsville City Schools said during an interview with WHNT News 19 this week.

WHNT News 19 asked Akin about efforts to deal with recent threats, arrests, and reports of fights at schools around the district. He said the district has a detailed safety plan and procedures in place if some kind of violence or situation does happen.

Even during a normal day, Akin said there is noticeable protection.

"We have police on-site with our security officers and our school resource officers who are Huntsville Police," said Akin. "We have procedures in place. We have cameras in place. We are probably the most secure system around."

Akin speaks generally about threats, whether credible or non-credible, when he says that the district must react quickly.

"We have to do our due diligence to investigate quickly," he explained. "One of the things we've really been focusing on this year is doing a better job of communicating with parents about the threats." He said parents need quick but accurate information.

Still Akin said during any situation the first thought would be of the students and the faculty. Once they are safe, he said communication would be close behind.

"Social media threats, whether they are credible or not, we have to investigate and get something out quickly. That seems to make it better. Parents truly appreciate quick communication, but they also expect accurate communication," he said.

Recent violence has sparked concern from school board members this month. At the school board meeting on February 1, just two weeks ago, board member Michelle Watkins raised concerns.

"Parents, I really need you to talk to your children about fighting in school," she said. "We have all these great things going on in Jemison High School... I don't want us to be recognized for fights," she continued.

She asked students who are trying to break up a fight to obey security or police when they arrive.

"When someone is trying to break up a fight, they don't know who is involved if you're in the middle," she cautioned.

Watkins also used her time at the meeting to talk to the students directly.

"This is not a good look for our community. This is not a good look for the district. And it's not just happening at Jemison; it's happening at all the schools," she stated. "Who wants to be advertised publicly for something negative? Let's get it together. If we need to do some peer mediation, if you need some counselors to talk to, go and talk to your administrators or your counselors. But we need the fights to stop."