By Beth Dowd
As we welcome another school year, children enter the halls with excitement as they meet their teachers and see old friends. New experiences and learning opportunities lie ahead. Parents get back into the routine of schedules and bus stops. Excitement is in the air, but sending our children back to school can also bring up feelings of anxiety or stress about their safety and security.
With lawmakers in the midst of deciding the best course of action to keep our kids safe, parents and students are caught in the middle of waiting for new legislation. We’ve seen students all across our nation speaking out and adults expressing their concern about the national crisis of safety in our schools.
Every parent wants their child to be able to go to school each day to learn and play. Elementary, middle and high school students in Fulton County had shelter in place and lockdown drills during their first week of school. Whether we like it or not, the world our children face is not the same as it was 10 years ago. So educators and administrators alike are faced with new challenges of how to best protect our children.
This issue is not just a county or statewide problem to solve. Parents need to be a part of the solution too. Parents have always been the driving force behind change in the school system within the platform of PTA or individually speaking on behalf of their children.
This past March, Fulton County Schools held two public safety meetings, one in the north at Centennial High School and one in the south at Banneker High School. Superintendent Dr. Jeff Rose led the discussion on security measures, training drills and safety plans for potential scenarios. He also introduced the Fulton County Schools Police Department, other local police departments, psychologists and social workers to speak on community partnerships, mental health, and preventative strategies. At the end of both meetings, parents were invited to break into small groups to voice their concerns and offer solutions. Unfortunately, both meetings were poorly attended with only about 30 in attendance in the south and under 200 attending in the north, sending a message to our lawmakers that parents aren’t really that concerned about safety which is not the case.
Lack of voice equals lack of action in our country. We have to be the voice of our children until they can speak for themselves. Tragedy can come to any community no matter how big or small so we have to be proactive, not reactive.
Currently, Fulton County Schools Police Department supplies full-time resource officers to middle and high schools, but not elementary schools leaving them vulnerable. Thankfully, most middle school officers share time with their affiliated elementary schools at some point in the day. They drop in to check the perimeter or walk the halls before heading back to their assigned middle schools. Barnwell is very blessed to have an excellent team of dedicated officers that protect us every day.
Officer Rowe has 13 years of law enforcement experience with the first 6 serving the Dekalb County Police Department and the last 7 years with the Johns Creek Police Department. He has been with Barnwell the longest and we appreciate him and all of our dedicated Officers. Officer Moody, a military veteran, has over 25 years of law enforcement experience to include Clark Atlanta University Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). She’s also a trainer for the State of Georgia covering multiple specialties such as crisis intervention, gangs, and bullying. Officer Lemke, also a military veteran, is in his 21st year of law enforcement with 20 of those serving the Fulton County Police Department. He retired last year as the SWAT Commander and has now joined Johns Creek Police Department.
States such as South Carolina, New Jersey, and Indiana have already placed full-time resource officers and metal detectors in elementary schools with other states soon to join. Unfortunately, Georgia is not on the list so parents wait to see if our Governor will follow suit. In the meantime, adults have to be creative and voice their ideas to school administrators and lawmakers.
After attending the security meeting at Centennial High School, Beth Dowd, a parent at Barnwell Elementary had the idea to create a space within Barnwell which would welcome local law enforcement, therefore, increasing police presence at the school. With the financial backing of the schools PTA and the blessing of Barnwell’s principal, Martin Neuhaus, she created “The Bear Den” a comfortable space, where officers can come in off the street to beat the heat in the summer or warm up in the winter. The room offers a coffee station, yummy snacks and assorted beverages for them to enjoy. The room is decorated with original works of art from students, expressing their appreciation for the officers. Recently, Barnwell held a meet and greet where law enforcement from both Fulton County Schools Police Department and Johns Creek Police Department came together to officially open the space.
Principal Neuhaus had this to say, “I’m grateful for all the police officers and first responders that take care of our students and families every day. We want to welcome all these civil servants to Barnwell whenever they’re in the area to come by for a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, a snack or just stop in and be appreciated. Thanks to the generosity of our PTA, we’ve created this space as an open invitation to all the great men and women who serve and protect us each day.”
Change begins at home, be the change you want to see today. Your children will thank you for it tomorrow.