05/09/07 — Board wants more than gang plan

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Board wants more than gang plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 9, 2007 1:55 PM

School board members want to take a harder line against gangs and other potential violence in the schools, they said Monday night.

Recent incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre, local shootings and calls from parents concerned about possible gang infiltration in area high schools prompted the discussion as the Board of Education meeting wrapped up.

Board member Pete Gurley said members need to be made aware of the issues schools are facing now.

"I really think we need to be proactive. It would behoove us to call for a meeting with some people in the county to see if there's something that we can do to keep these things from recurring in the future."

He suggested representatives from law enforcement agencies around the county be invited to offer suggestions on shoring up safety.

"I would really like to see us have a meeting or summit or whatever you want to call it, concerning some of these things that we're being confronted with," he said.

Board Chairman Shirley Sims said several community efforts have been made in the past, but nothing materialized from them.

"The time to prepare for a war is in a time of peace," she said. "We have been very blessed that we haven't had anything on our soil, but that doesn't mean we're immune to it."

Having a plan and people in place to implement it would be the ideal, Ms. Sims said. Gurley said the trained professionals are in a position to provide information.

"What I'm looking for is simple. We talk about gangs and wanna-be gangs. If we think it's not here, we have got our heads in the sand," he said. If they were enlightened as to what to look for, they would be better prepared if or when anything happens, he added.

Vice Chairwoman Thelma Smith said such information should be a community-wide effort.

"I think everybody has been alarmed about the recent things going on," she said. "Everybody knows this community needs something to help and healing. We all need to get together."

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor agreed that a meeting could be beneficial, but noted that "things are in place" and the district has a safe schools plan that is working.

"I think you would be impressed with the information we have," he said.

"But how much of that (plan) covers gang activity?" Gurley asked. "These guys out there that I'm talking about tell you what you need to look for, what to be alerted to."

The effectiveness of the schools' crisis plan was debated. A few board members said they were not familiar with the plan, prompting board member John P. Grantham to steer the conversation back to Gurley's original comment.

"I don't think you understand what Pete is saying," he said.

The two men said that being proactive means more than relying on a plan, but rather enlisting help from trained professionals to provide the most current information.

Ms. Sims said that school officials should educate the board and work toward preventing violent incidents.

"(Law enforcement) people know what's happening on a day-to-day basis. You know it after the fact," she said.

"The students are aware of what you're saying," said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for financial services.

"They know more about it than we do," Ms. Sims replied. "Whenever you get a call from parents, we don't know what to tell them. Don't let anybody ask me about something and I don't know anything about what they're talking about."

Taylor said a report will be given at next month's board meeting on "all that we have in place in our schools."

"We want parents to be assured that we have contingency plans in place," he said. "(But) we can always improve."