Madison County Schools safety audit and improvements “paying dividends”

HARVEST, Ala. - The Madison County Schools system recently paid for a safety evaluation from SafeSchools. Its threat assessment, for which officials said the district spent $30,000, is meant to recommend changes to make the district's campuses more secure for students and staff.

We talked with Superintendent Matt Massey about the evaluation and audit last week, and again after a threat was called into Sparkman High School on Wednesday.

"We're going to look at notes and see where we can get better, but it is good to know our kids are home safe now," Massey said on Wednesday after students were dismissed following the all-clear. "You need to be prepared in how you respond to your community, to your parents. It's just kind of the world we live in right now. We've invested a lot in keeping our campuses as safe as possible."

WHNT News 19 has previously reported on various safety upgrades on campuses, including creating airlock areas at entrances. Leaders recently said they are accepting more bids to continue doing those airlock updates as the year moves on.

What the Audit Showed

Leaders say the audit is mostly validation that they are taking the right steps in terms of safety and security.

"They were very, very impressed with what we're doing. For us, this not only is giving us 24 different areas to improve on, but it is also validating in what we and our school resource officers are doing," Mark Minskey, Deputy Superintendent, said in a presentation to the board of education earlier this month.

In the presentation, he detailed some things the audit listed that can help the district improve. You can view the presentation at this link. (Minskey, begins his presentation around the 30:30 mark.)

Some of those items include:

  • P.A. system updates- the recommendation is to make sure there are quality voiceover speaker systems in all schools, something the district has been working on for months
  • Video camera placement- The recommendation was to make sure each camera angle has good coverage on entrances. The district is working on camera packages for its schools now.
  • Visitor monitoring system- The district is contracting with a program that will scan driver licenses and run the individuals through databases, including sex offender registries
  • Training- Additional training, including clarifying lockout vs lockdowns
  • S.R.O. gun lockers- School resource officers carry issued handguns, but they also have long guns locked away when they are on-duty. The recommendation is to provide lockers for those long guns inside the schools so the officers don't need to go out their cars to access them. The district wants approval from the Madison County Sheriff's office on the model preference
  • Safe Rooms- There are storm shelters in many schools, but the recommendation is to use them better during lockdown situations
  • Lockdown drills- The auditors were pleased with what the district is doing, but recommended refraining from doing them unannounced to reduce stress on students and staff
  • Access by first responders- The recommendation was to find a way to get them into schools faster if called, such as a swipe card system or a lockbox for master classroom keys
  • S.R.O. Program- The auditors were "very complimentary" of the S.R.O. program in place at Madison County Schools

"I think our parents need to know that there are a lot of things we are already doing well, and we have some plans to move forward. I think that's something we should be proud of. I'm very thankful we got this done, and I was impressed to read it," said Angie Bates, board member, about the safety audit and threat assessment.

How it Helped

Massey said the P.A. system improvements really helped out at Sparkman during the lockdown on Wednesday.

"In the past, it's been spotty. There were some areas where you can't hear it or it's not clear," he stated. "We got new speakers that are loud, and clear. That was a specific thing we found we needed to improve on and we did, and it paid dividends. The communication today, the speed with which students were able to go into lockdown was very positively received from the sheriff's office," he said.

Massey stated that the district will continue to evolve, and it will debrief after the Sparkman threat.

"We feel good about where we are, but you are always looking at ways to improve. To prepare for times like this, is why we have our safety procedures," he said.

Meanwhile, the Madison County Sheriff's Office investigation into the threat continues.