By Curt Yeomans
Officials with Clayton County Public Schools, and the American Red Cross, are asking the Clayton County Board of Education to approve an agreement that would allow the emergency-aid organization to continue to use schools in the county as disaster-relief shelters.
A copy of the agreement, which would continue to make 17 Clayton County middle and high schools available to the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross, was presented to school board members on Monday. The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposed agreement at its Jan. 11 business meeting, according to a draft copy of the meeting's agenda.
Clayton County Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said he and school system Superintendent Edmond Heatley are recommending that the school board approve the renewal of the agreement.
Unlike the previous agreement, the new one will last indefinitely, until either the school system or the Red Cross decides to end it, Jackson said.
"I think it's our civic duty to make these schools available," Jackson said. "The schools belong to the citizens of Clayton County, and the Red Cross would use these facilities to shelter these people. To me, it's a no-brainer."
Approval of the proposed renewal agreement would continue a long-standing partnership between the school system and the Red Cross. The partnership has given the emergency-aid organization access to local school facilities whenever they are needed to serve as shelters for people displaced by a disaster.
Shelters are needed any time 30 families, or more, are displaced from their homes by a natural or man-made disaster, such as a fire, tornado, flood, hurricane or chemical spill, said Marilyn Self, the manager of disaster readiness for the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"We never know when a disaster will occur," Self said. "We try to put people in shelters that are close to where they live so that it won't disrupt their lives too much. The shelter is a safe haven until they can make other arrangements. Sometimes, they only need a few nights until they can get their home repaired to the point where they could go back there, and sometimes, they don't have a home left to go back to."
According to documents presented to school board members on Monday, there are 11 middle schools and six high schools on the Red Cross' list of Clayton County schools that can be used as potential shelters.
Those schools are: Adamson Middle School; Babb Middle School; Forest Park High School; Forest Park Middle School; Jonesboro High School; Jonesboro Middle School; Kendrick Middle School; Lovejoy High School; Lovejoy Middle School; M.D. Roberts Middle School; Morrow High School; Mt. Zion High School; Mundy's Mill Middle School; North Clayton Middle School; Point South Middle School; Riverdale High School, and Sequoyah Middle School.
Self said the Red Cross has had facility agreements with Clayton County Public Schools for "probably at least 30 years." She said the proposed, new agreement is similar to the one that the school system and the Red Cross already has in place. Self said it has been several years since the Red Cross needed to use a Clayton County school as a disaster-relief shelter, though.
"They have always been a wonderful partner," she said. "We've worked well with them in the past, and we just appreciate everything the school system, and the community, has done in making sure disaster victims are taken care of."
Self said that under the proposed renewal agreement, if a Clayton County school is used as a disaster-relief shelter, the Red Cross would designate a volunteer to act as the shelter manager while the school system would designate a few of its employees to serve as facility coordinator, food services manager and facility custodian.
The facility coordinator would be available, either in person or by telephone, to assist shelter staff with facility issues, Self said. She also said the food services manager, and facility custodian, would be used as needed.
The Red Cross would also re-imburse the school system for any consumable resources it uses while operating a shelter in a school under the agreement, Self said. "Any expenses we incur, we will take care of," she said. "If we use extra utilities beyond what is used in the normal operation of the school, we'll pay for that."
Jackson said that with the clause making the agreement last until either side gives the other 30 days' written notice of a desire to terminate the agreement, he expects this new agreement -- if approved by the school board -- will be in effect permanently.
The only way the agreement would likely be redone in the future would be if the Red Cross wanted to add additional schools to the list of potential shelters, Jackson said. As it is, he said, the schools already on that list are spread out across the county.
"This will probably be the last time the agreement will have to be re-approved," Jackson said.