Message from the Superintendent on School Safety
School security is a commitment, not an option
J. Alvin Wilbanks
Gwinnett County Public Schools takes a balanced, rational approach to school safety. The comprehensive plans we put in place system-wide have been applauded by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency as among the best these experts have seen. Each school has a local safety plan written specifically for that building and campus, and the plan is reviewed and revised, as needed, every year. We train staff at each location to respond effectively and confidently in an emergency or crisis situation. Our school resource officers help educate students and parents about safety issues, while also protecting them and preventing inappropriate behavior on the campuses.
But just as all of us try to provide safe home environments, can we guarantee that our schools are shielded from any possible danger? Can we absolutely protect against a random act of violence? Can we preserve the welcoming, friendly environment, while at the same time making them fortresses against wrong-doers? The answer is no. We live in a world that tests us daily when it comes to protecting our most valuable assets – our children. We are challenged to keep them out of harm's way, yet some face dangers in their own neighborhoods or homes. It cuts to the heart of anyone in education when a child is harmed at school. Though such occurrences are rare, we are committed to doing everything possible to prevent them from happening at all.
Gwinnett County's public schools do an outstanding job of maintaining order and safety. Throughout the decades, hundreds of thousands of children have walked our halls without fear or harm. The annual perception surveys completed by students, parents and staff at every school prove that those closest to the schools feel strongly that they are indeed safe.
Student misbehavior is the exception, not the rule, in our schools. The vast majority of Gwinnett students behave at school, creating no disciplinary problems. When incidents occur, they are reported promptly by administrators, staff and students. Our schools’ persistent actions to quickly and fairly address misbehavior may lead to more discipline incidents being reported, but they also make our commitment to school safety clear and make our schools safer.
The Gwinnett County school system takes a disciplined, proactive approach to ensure a safe learning environment for our students. We have clear expectations for student behavior, and strategies for stopping conflicts or preventing trouble before it occurs. Crisis management plans are in place and teams are trained to respond. We partner with local law enforcement, the juvenile courts, the district attorney’s office, and emergency response agencies to implement common-sense safety measures and responses. Most significantly, we are in good stead because our School Board, parents, and community expect our schools to be safe and work with us to ensure they are. School security is not an option. It is our commitment.
J. Alvin Wilbanks
This column originally appeared in the March 11, 2004, edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Gwinnett Extra.