Schools focus on safety, drug prevention

Friday, September 18, 2009

Attention to safety in Marshall County's schools continues to increase, according to speakers at this week's fall meeting of the Safe and Drug Free Schools Task Force.

Assistant director of schools Roy Dukes told the group of law enforcement professionals, school and central office administrators, and students, that Tennessee had passed a law last year against bullying, harassment and intimidation. Such actions are already against school board policy, but now administrators will be calling law enforcement as well.

Documented safety drills will be held at the schools each month, and Dukes urged school principals to take a look at how far away from the building students will assemble in case of a bomb threat.

"Two hundred to 400 feet is great," Dukes said. "It's going to be a project at each school."

Dukes also told principals to be sure they had a safety plan for school activities, like athletic events, as well.

"People look to us for safety," he said. "We want to make every school better; make it better for each one of our kids to go to school."

Linda Williams-Lee, the federal projects coordinator, is in charge of making sure there is a comprehensive plan of action in place in case of an emergency at one of the schools. The current plan can be seen on request at the Central Office, and law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical service personnel have copies.

"The only number they have to call is 911," said Lewisburg Chief of Police Chuck Forbis, who attended with Sheriff Les Helton and Chief Deputy Billy Lamb.

Williams-Lee asked the student representatives at the meeting what problems they saw at their schools.

"I think it's the drugs," said the young woman from Marshall County High School. "It's been too many - young kids as well, freshmen and sophomores. It's ridiculous."

The high school principals agreed they would like to see the drug dogs at their schools at least three times a year.

"Is there a way to do it on different days?" asked MCHS assistant principal Shanda Sparrow. She explained that last year MCHS was checked by the dogs the same day they had been at Cornersville, so students had been warned by their friends.

In discussion after the meeting, it was revealed that having the drug-sniffing dogs visit a school is both time consuming and expensive. Dr. Larry Miller, the Forrest principal, said four dogs spent seven and a half hours checking his school building and grounds last year. There are no drug dogs in Marshall County now, so they would have to come with their handlers from surrounding counties, probably paying the officers an overtime rate.

The Lewisburg Middle School guidance counselor said the biggest problem at her school was students' cell phones and bullying.

Sparrow said they had already seen "cyber-bullying" at MCHS, and there is no way to find out who is sending the messages.

Miller advised treating it as a law-enforcement issue and calling in the School Resource Officer.

Williams-Lee said in a telephone interview that she writes a project every year to get about $16,600 in federal Title IV money for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. $6,600 of that goes for training, materials, supplies and telephones for the four SROs.

The rest ($10,000) is spent on the Nashville-based Students Taking a Right Stand (STARS) program for MCHS. The STARS mission is to help students refrain from the use of alcohol, other drugs, and violence, and to enhance their educational achievement and character development.

"It really helps the children," says Williams-Lee. "It's very much a success!"

The STARS report for their activities last year at MCHS says that, among other things, they "completed 40 intake assessments for referred students; completed 181 individual counseling sessions with students; attended to 23 crisis episodes; referred 31 students to community-based services; and facilitated 22 parent/student mediation sessions."

According to STARS, 100 percent of students who completed an exit survey said they felt "more connected to school" and "at least 95 percent of students reported that they felt better able to handle stress, resist peer pressure, and to think about consequences before acting."