No emergency plan approved yet

By Greg Gelpi

Of the more than 1,300 schools with Georgia Emergency Management Agency-approved safety plans in the state, none are in Clayton County.

GEMA has been working with schools to comply with a law passed in 1999 requiring every school to adopt a safety plan in case of a natural disaster or criminal act.

While none of the Clayton County Public Schools meet GEMA requirements, they all meet the requirements set forth by state law, said Jack Warren, the Clayton County Public Schools administrative assistant for policy and legislation.

"All of our schools have emergency preparedness plans," he said. "We feel that we are meeting all requirements of the law and then some."

GEMA requires more than does state law, Warren said, but Clayton schools are still safe.

GEMA is pushing schools to comply with the law during this week, which is recognized as America's Safe Schools Week.

"The way we look at it every week is School Safety Week," Warren said. "No school can be 100 percent safe outside of a prison."

Using GEMA's guidelines and models, Warren said the school system developed policies fit for individual schools, rather than adopting a generic policy.

"Our differences with GEMA are very minute," Warren said.

The school district worked with the Clayton County Emergency Management Agency in writing its plans and policies, he said.

Vacal Caldwell, a training officer with the county's emergency management agency, said he was in contact with the school as recently as last week on this issue and that progress is being made.

"State law dictates what has to be in a plan," Caldwell said. "(The school system) comes to us before for approval before going to GEMA."

If the Clayton County emergency agency approves the plan, then it "should be" approved by the state agency, he said.

A few principals chose to have individualized plans for their schools, which slowed down the approval process, Caldwell said.

"Not all of them had approval because individual principals decided to read and interpret the law to make their own plans," Warren said, saying that some principals opposed "cookie cutter" plans.

These plans are a "little bit lacking in certain criteria," he said, but they are just "technical" requirements.

"Clayton County had some objections to going over and beyond the state requirements," Warren said.

Clayton County has three areas to deal with emergencies, Warren said. They are emergency preparedness, crisis management and individual school plans.

"It's a continual work in progress," Lisa Ray of GEMA said.

The law mandates that GEMA work with the schools in developing safety plans and assisting them with any problems.

A force of 19 Clayton County police officers works in the system's schools as part of emergency preparedness, said Greg Porter, commander of the school resource office.

"It's a unique style of policing because it's somewhat based around community-oriented policing," Porter said. "We are proactive in all aspects of school safety."

The school resource officers work "hand in hand" with school administration to prevent and respond to any emergency that may arise, he said.

The school system's policy was put to the test last month when a juvenile student threatened to commit a mass killing in documents found at Lovejoy High School. The student was arrested and no one was hurt.

Although GEMA has yet to approve the county's plans, it did, however, commend Lovejoy for the actions it took in response to the threat.

That action included not telling parents about the incident in which documents were found outlining the plan. Teachers and administrators rallied behind the principal's decision and actions. Some parents said they were mad they were not told. The incident came to light only after the News Daily found it in is routine checking of police records.