City schools keeping guns out

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2005

Two Selma High teens are in the Dallas County Jail charged with capital murder. Another Southside High teen is at home on bond, waiting for hearings to begin on an assault charge for allegedly shooting a student from a rival high school.

Both cases involved guns. Both cases involved area high school students.

And both cases have law enforcement and school officials concerned about what might happen if that violence came on school grounds.

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School Security

Selma High School Principal Joe Peterson said that security is always a concern for local high schools and recent events have emphasized the importance of programs already in place.

“It makes one more alert,” Peterson said adding that arguments outside of school could come into the schools. “Some of the events do actually spill over in school.”

To keep problems from getting out of hand, Selma City School officials do all they can to prevent students from bringing weapons onto school grounds.

Administrators have put several safeguards in place to make sure that even if a teen carries a gun outside of the school, they can’t bring it into the building.

For example, Selma’s high school students use one door to enter and exit, the school’s side entrances are monitored and forbidden.

Each student’s bags are checked and metal detectors are in use to check for weapons on every student.

“Every school has hand-held wands (metal detectors) to check the students for weapons,” Selma Schools Superintendent Dr. James Carter said. “Weapons checks are done on a regular basis, but always unannounced so students don’t know when they have them.”

Peterson said the random checks occur in classrooms and help prevent students from planting weapons on campus after school hours.

Visitors are discouraged at SHS and are limited to parents only.

“We’re not going to have any visitors unless absolutely necessary,” Peterson said. “With the events that have been going on as of late we can’t afford to do that.”

Security guards are posted and visible, to discourage unwelcome guests.

“We do have security guards all day around our perimeter,” Peterson said.

Drug dogs are used when SHS faculty members conduct regular searches of the cars students drive to school.

Southside High also has several safeguards in place.

Repeated attempts to contact representatives of the Dallas County School system and Southside High were unsuccessful.

The systems also seem to be sharing techniques.

Both systems require students to use clear or mesh backpacks to keep them from bringing contraband to the school.

“We have had some problems with that lately,” Peterson said. “We’ve got to get the kids to understand what we’re trying to do to keep them safe.”

Law enforcement praise

The good news is, according to area law enforcement, students are safer.

The efforts by area educators have kept guns from being a problem in schools, according to Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman and Interim Selma Police Chief Jimmy Martin.

“We can’t recall a gun being taken from a student on school property in the past year,” Huffman said.

Martin said during his time as a police officer, he couldn’t remember any school incidents involving guns.

“I can’t recall one,” he said.

That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, which means officials have to stay diligent.

“Some of these kids don’t care,” Huffman said.

Even though students don’t appear to be bringing guns into the schools, it is apparent from the recent string of arrests that some of the students do at least have them.

Most of the weapons juveniles get come from thefts, Huffman said.

“A lot of these guns are probably as a result of being stolen. In some instances you’ve got people that are buying them and reselling,” Huffman said.

Educators say they are working hard to keep guns out of schools, but know more can be done.

“We’re developing a school resource officer,” Martin said. “We’re trying to get that in place over the next two to three months.”

Voice of experience

All of Dallas County’s security measures are moves in the right direction, according to Captain Randy Vaughn, the training officer for the Tuscaloosa Police Department.

For 10 years, Vaughn served as Tuscaloosa’s gang investigator.

During that time, he worked with educators and youth groups to reduce juvenile crime and guns in schools.

He said Dallas County isn’t the only county facing problems with guns and youth violence.

“With us being a Southern region we’re going to have more problems with guns than anyone else,” Vaughn said.

Preventing youth violence involves trying new things and making sure everyone works together, he said.

“Open communication is a must,” he said. “They all need to be on the same sheet of music.”

Vaughn also said parents should get involved, a suggestion echoed by educators and law enforcement officers in the area.

“I would like to see the parents be more involved in school,” Peterson said.

Peterson and Vaughn both said parents need to keep a close eye on their children.

“Parents need to be the best detectives,” Vaughn said.

“Definitely know all about your child that you can,” Peterson said. “Some parents give their child too much freedom all at once at an early age sometimes can be the worst thing you can do for a child.”

While safety is a big issue, Vaughn said parents and community members should realize that there’s only so much that can be done.

“A school setting is just like any other public setting,” Vaughn said. “The school can only take so many security measures and still fill their primary objective.”