School lockdowns, and preparing for a possible intruder, have become a fact of life for many metro Atlanta, Ga., schools.
School safety has changed in recent years with mass shootings such as the 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 students and six staff members were killed by a gunman, still fresh in the minds of many Americans, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
In most cases, a school lockdown is ordered by a principal or school resource officer when there are armed suspects nearby or a fight between students gets particularly violent, the Atlanta newspaper reported. In less urban areas, lockdowns have been ordered when a hunter errantly encroaches on school property.
Metro Atlanta schools not only conduct fire drills and tornado drills, but most now teach students – from elementary school upward – what to do during lockdowns.
“Many of them treat it the same as math class,” said Shannon Flounnory, executive director for safety and security in the Fulton County School District. “It’s a part of school now. It’s a part of the times that we’re in now.”
In Fulton County, there are “soft” lockdowns and “hard” lockdowns, authorities said. A hard lockdown includes not allowing anyone to leave a classroom.
In Cherokee County, students are taught to stay away from windows and doors and to move near cinder block walls in a dangerous situation.
DeKalb County has three levels of lockdowns, officials said. The protocol for the most serious lockdown level includes locking classroom doors, turning lights out and possibly barricading the doors.
The general theory in DeKalb County and other school districts is that “if we are going to err, we are going to err on the side of caution,” said Don Smith, the DeKalb County school district’s public safety director.
In north Fulton County, Johns Creek High School student Andrew Liang said he and his classmates are trained for lockdowns once every few months. The drills, he said, typically last about 10 minutes. Liang said half of the students stayed home from school one day last school year when rumors of a mass shooting spread through the school. School officials handled the situation well, he said, but Liang said he’d like to see more drills.
“Our school should practice lockdowns more often, and make them second-nature for students and teachers,” he said.
Some Parent Teacher Association groups have helped pay for systems that lock classroom doors during a lockdown. One thing the state’s PTA leader would like to see parents do is be more vigilant about providing contact information so they can be notified if there is a school lockdown.
Law enforcement’s “ability to communicate is as good as the information parents give them,” said Georgia PTA President Lisa-Marie Haygood, who has a daughter in the Cherokee County school system.
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