After a Grady High School senior brought a gun to school Wednesday and accidentally shot herself in the leg in the courtyard, Atlanta Public Schools’ officials have called a community meeting at the school Thursday night to discuss the incident.
And it is expected that the tempers of some parents could be hot, just as they were Wednesday as parents milled around outside the school waiting to bring their children home. One parent, who asked not to be identified, said to Patch, “I’ve been fed up with APS for 10 years … We should be able to send a child to school within our neighborhood where we live amongst civilized human beings without fear of a gun.”
The 17-year-old girl who brought the weapon — a pink .380-caliber handgun — on campus, was charged with felony possession of a pistol by a minor, along with three misdemeanors. Morgan Tukes is due in court Thursday.
Patch spoke with several students outside the school Wednesday who said that security measures had been amped up this week. Students regularly pass through metal detectors, but they are not closely monitored said some students. Still, this week students found their book bags searched more diligently.
“I feel like it kind of provoked or challenged the students,” said Jessi, a Grady senior who did not provide her last name. Added another Class of 2013 student, Matt, “I’ve heard students say that (searching bags) means something bad is going to happen because a lot of students here enjoy trying to avoid it, seeing how much they can get away with.”
Tukes did not pass through the school’s metal detectors, but several students said that avoiding the detectors wasn’t a big deal as merely showing up late and gaining school entry via other entrances wasn't difficult to accomplish. Atlanta Public School Superintendent Erroll Davis said Wednesday that the late-arriving Tukes was let into the school’s gymnasium by other students.
Davis and Grady Principal Vincent D. Murray were among those who repeatedly reassured parents through various modes of communication on Wednesday that the safety and security of students and staff remains the disctrict's top priority.
Following the December tragedy at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and last month’s incident where a student was shot and a teacher injured at Price Middle School in southeast Atlanta, tensions remain high at Grady, a school that usually makes headlines for high achievement, including its award-winning debate students, robotics team and student journalists.
“This is a very prestigious school,” Grady parent Tara Taylor told Patch. “It took me a lot to get my daughter in here and it’s a wonderful place to have your kid. But for safety purposes, with Columbine and all that stuff, my mind is saying ‘Oh my God, it’s now at my child’s school. We’re one of the other people now.’”
Davis has said that a new security framework is in place and it is expected that such will be further detailed and discussed at Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. community meeting in the school’s auditorium.
The district is considering moving towards 100 percent APS law enforcement services, which would replace Atlanta police officers currently working in the schools with full-time APS employees as Resource Officers assigned to individual schools on a more permanent basis.
APS school board chairman Rueben McDaniel told Patch Wednesday there has been “an outcry” from APS principals for a more consistent approach to campus safety.
“I like the idea of having consistent Resource Officers at a school to get to know the school, the principal, the parents, the culture,” McDaniel said. “And I want to see what the solutions are, but I would like to see the system create an environment where at school you have the principal, counselors, Resource Officers all a part of the school community.”
The School Resource Officer (SRO) program is hoped to give consistency and improved services with focused training that is scalable and leads to safe schools according to a presentation at a January APS Board of Education meeting.
The presentation, which is included with this story, was an overview of conversations that began last year around climate, culture and safety. Davis and the board discussed further last month the plan, which has been in the making for about a year and not a direct result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, saying that a homegrown APS force would give the district enhanced control over security and taking preventative measures.
Currently, APS is being served by 55 full-time and 233 part-time Atlanta police officers, and 70 percent of the district’s safety personnel reports to APD. The district believes this weakens its ability to proactively address crime issues, many which originate from bullying or other aggressive behaviors, on school grounds.
Other metro area school districts in Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, and Cherokee counties have their own security forces.
At the Januray board meeting, Davis said there needed to be a a "more full-time commitment" so officers can better identify issues of concern.
"With the cluster framework we want to have officers who are there full-time and learn all of the kids in the cluster as they move from elementary to middle to high school," said Davis as tweeted by the APS Twitter account @apsupdate.
"The officers can do planning among themselves, identify sensitive relationships and head these issues off much earlier. There is a lot more prevention in this plan than in the past. The question is where do we get full time officers and there we need to be careful as the city is trying to put more officers on the street and we want to be more respectful of that. I don’t want anyone, however, to be surprised about the direction that we are going."
With regards to Wednesday's events, several students and parents said they were satisfied with how APS and the school communicated with them in the time period following the shooting.
Wrote one parent to Patch in an email, "I am pretty happy with APS communication today. My daughter texted me about the "hard lockdown" from school at 10:01 a.m., although she didn't know what was happening. We got robo-calls from APS with information and updates at 10:21 a.m., 10:45 a.m. & all-clear at 12:02 p.m. and several more since. Twitter communication & response from @apsupdate was excellent, much better than after Price MS. I am also very, very happy my daughter had her cell phone and was able to text me."