School safety front and center after Huffman, Parkland and Santa Fe shootings
School safety discussions occupied much of the spring and summer after a former student gunned down 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. The national reaction was strong, and survivors of the shooting stepped front and center into the national debate over gun safety, organizing the March for Our Lives national grassroots coalition.
Gov. Kay Ivey appointed agency heads to the Securing Alabama Facilities of Education, or SAFE, Council on Mar. 6, but the very next day, on Mar. 7, Huffman High School senior Courtlin Arrington (pictured) was shot and killed at school by a fellow student who had brought a gun to school.
Birmingham-area students held a town hall on gun violence and organized their own chapters of March for Our Lives, and held marches across the state in coordination with the national march.
Alabama lawmakers accomplished little regarding safety during the legislative session, only passing one law allowing schools to use money previously earmarked for technology to be used for school security purposes.
The SAFE Council’s report, released in May, included 10 recommendations, but no funding. Education and law enforcement officials agree that adding a trained and certified school resource officer to each campus is the ideal solution, but funding is a challenge. State Superintendent Eric Mackey has requested $20 million for school safety in the Alabama State Department of Education budget for fiscal year 2020.
On May 18, a student at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Tx., shot and killed 10 students and staff and wounded 10 others.
Days before the Republican primary, Ivey announced the creation of the Sentry Program, allowing trained administrators to have access to a firearm kept on campus in a biometrically-sealed safe. Reactions to the program varied, and it is unknown whether any schools are participating, as that information is kept a secret to ensure safety of participants.
Law enforcement officials took threats made by students seriously, and nearly 50 Alabama students were disciplined for making threats after the Parkland massacre.
In August, Alabama school officials described new safety measures put in place as they opened for the 2018-19 school year.
President Donald Trump’s school safety commission released findings of their work on Dec. 18. The report included more than 100 policy recommendations and stressed better mental health services are needed for students. The commission said little on gun safety.
Gov. Kay Ivey announces Alabama Sentry program
West Alabama charter opens as first fully integrated school in Sumter County
Students in a west Alabama school made history in August when the doors opened at University Charter School. The state’s first Kindergarten through 8th grade charter school opened with nearly an even number of white students and black students, making it the first fully integrated school in Sumter County’s history. The county has been called the most segregated county in Alabama, making the voluntary effort even more extraordinary.
Attempts by black students to integrate the public schools in the late 1960s were thwarted by white students and parents who fled the public schools, taking financial resources with them and refusing to support an increase local taxes to support the public schools.
The county’s public schools, with a student population that is nearly all African American and of whom nearly all are in poverty, are struggling to succeed academically, and it’s unclear what the Sumter County school board and newly-seated superintendent will do to restore public trust in the public schools there.
The board is currently in a legal battle with the University of West Alabama over allowing UCS to utilize the former Livingston High School as the site of the charter school.
The story struck a chord nationally and internationally, not only for its history-making moment but also likely because of the efforts of people of all races in a small rural Alabama county to purposefully place their children in school together, where schools across America are becoming increasingly re-segregated.
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