More Security Staff Part of Mississippi District’s Planned Safety Improvements

More Security Staff Part of Mississippi District's Planned Safety Improvements

Lee County Schools is planning multiple security improvements for its schools, including the hiring of more security staff and a new safety coordinator.

Lee County Schools examined its district safety plan recently and plans to make multiple school security improvements in the fall, including the hiring of more security staff for the district security team and a new safety coordinator.

According to school board president Sherry Mask, hiring new staff will give each school its own officer, when previously, one officer often covered two to three district campuses. The district also plans to hire a safety coordinator to oversee the district’s security.

The new hires will include four new school resource officers, who will be employees of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and whose salaries will be paid with district funds provided to the sheriff’s department. The other four new hires will be employed by the district as school safety officers.

School board member Ronnie Bell said the district and Lee County Sheriff’s Department are already partnered for a tip line where people can report suspicious activity.

Last April, the district contracted Les Nichols, president of youth protection consultancy R.L. Nichols & Associates, to evaluate their existing safety measures and recommend ways to improve the district’s safety plan.

According to Nichols, 40 percent of school fatalities are vehicular-related, the highest percent of school fatalities. He said shooters often choose to target schools with less challenging security measures in place.

“It is important to set up conditions where this is less likely to happen,” Nichols said.

District Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district has already implemented some of Nichols’s recommendations, like electronic door lock systems and upgraded video surveillance systems.

“Quite a few things that Les recommended we either have already, or have been doing a little bit of, as we have had the funding,” Weeks said.

The district approved the safety plan recommended by Nichols but adjust the plan based on what makes sense, Weeks said.

Nichols said adding the new security officers will be a big step for the district.

“A large number of the 100,000 U.S. schools do not have school resource officers. Lee County School District is being very proactive by doing this,” Nichols said.

He added that the presence of security officers on campus can deter criminal activity.

“Criminals make a decision based on some rationale, no one just snaps, so they are going to choose a location where they will succeed," Nichols said. "Having well-trained armed professionals not only serves as an immediate deterrent, it also boosts overall morale, sets a threshold of security as a serious business. They are there as a symbol.”

The school board will start working on a timeline for future safety and security upgrades soon. Weeks said the recommended measures will cost an estimated $1.4 million, and the district will make the changes over time.

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