Madison fifth graders take school safety ideas directly to superintendent

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MADISON, Ala. - A group of Madison students is taking the school safety issue so seriously, they're taking it up with the leader of their school system.

It all started with an email, Superintendent Robby Parker said Thursday. He explained that he received an email from a Rainbow Elementary 5th grader who asked him to meet with her and a group of friends to talk about school safety. Parker said he was all in.

"I said, 'Well, absolutely. I'll be there tomorrow,'" he recalled.

Parker said when he arrived at Rainbow Elementary to meet with the students, he was impressed by what he found.

"They were official. They came in there, they had their plan laid out," he explained.

Principal Brian Givens said he isn't shocked by the students' initiative. He said they did it without any prompting, dealing directly with the superintendent instead of up the chain of command.

"One of the students approached me and said, 'Mr. Parker is coming to see us!' I had no idea what they were talking about," he laughed. "I'm not surprised, but I'm impressed."

WHNT News 19 sat down with the students about what they had to say to Superintendent Parker and the school leaders at the meeting.

Olivia Jose said she organized the group.

"Not only do I care about myself, I care about others and their safety too," she said. "I want to make sure everyone is safe all around the world.

Jiselle White explained that they did it because they were concerned by the Parkland school shooting.

"We had heard about the shooting in Florida, so we wanted to keep our school safe," she said. "At first, it started off with something little like an email, but it turned into something this big that I didn't think was going to happen."

"I was really sad," said Deacon Rains of the Parkland shooting. "All those people died and there were people who lost loved ones. I don't want to have to deal with that."

It's a big topic for such young children. That's what makes their courage in the face of tragedy in neighboring states so impressive. The students brought their ideas to the table.

Benjamin Harper said that he would like to see more school resource officers in the schools.

"We need at least one police [officer] at every Madison City School. So if something does happen, we can have someone with a firearm at each school," he reasoned. "We can feel more safe and we have police who can do a lot for us."

Rains and Jose asked for bulletproof windows on the doors, and for doors to be strong to resist intruders.

"I shared something about combination locks," added White, who had asked Parker about installing special locks on the doors that only certain people can access.

Stuart Walker said other solutions can be something anyone can do to help secure the school.

"You can lock the doors and you can check around the school, see if anyone is doing anything suspicious," he volunteered.

Harper said he feels safe in his classroom because he knows his teacher will help if there is trouble. "We always talk and have story time. He said if anything ever happened, if anybody ever came in, he would try to take care of it," he said simply.

The group of students recognizes what a big topic they're tackling, but they are thankful Parker took them seriously.

"I think he really supported us on this and he really believed we could do this with him," Jose stated. "I think he cares a lot about the students in Madison city, and I think he will do something about it."

Superintendent Parker said he does indeed intend to do something.

"It made my day. It made my day that they're comfortable coming to me for one thing, but they had some really strong ideas," he said. "I can mandate and legislate from the Central Office all day long, but the students are going to be the ones who make it the safest by paying attention. Every one of the students are so hyper-aware of their surroundings. If something is not right, we want them to tell us."

Of the meeting, Parker said, "I think the things they said are things we want to happen. They thought Text to Protect was really good. They said they feel the most safe in their classrooms. They want to see police in the building every day, all day. I understand that. I feel the same way, as the superintendent."

Parker has previously stated that he would like to put SRO's in every school. Currently, there are SRO's in every high and middle school, but the elementary schools share them.

"It's a shame that 5th graders have to worry," he commented. "It breaks my heart that that's where the world is today. But on the other hand, I am very thankful that they are aware of the world they live in. We can change our part of the world. We can make our part of the world safer."

"My test scores matter. But what matters the most is my kids are safe. That's all that matters," said Givens.