The Bibb County School Board spent several hours talking about discipline and safety issues in the schools Monday evening.
The meeting was called after an audit on school safety revealed many pitfalls.
Last week, there were at least 4 reported incidents of students handling knives and guns at school and at a bus stop.
The agenda for this meeting only had one item. It reads "discipline matters", but that covers such a broad range of issues that the meeting lasted almost three hours.
Superintendent Romain Dallemand opened by trying to set the record straight about information he said was reported incompletely or inaccurately.
He blamed those media reports for "creating a culture of fear in the district."
Dallemand also explained, "Building confidence in our public schools is advantageous for staff and for our community at large. To do so, we must all work dilligently to ensure that students and their families have access to accurate information. As the superintendent, I take my responsibility to provide correct information to the public seriously. However I recognize that I share that responsibility with others including board members staff members and the media."
District officials also discussed the Safe Haven report, released by a company the district hired to assess safety in Bibb schools. It found many gaps, and as result made several recommendations.
One of those recommendations asked the district to pull out of an agreement with the juvenile justice system to cut down on the number of kids who are sent before a judge for misdemeanors committed at school.
There's a similar program in Clayton County, and at the meeting, Steven Teske, Chief Juvenile Court Judge, told board members that was a bad idea.
In response, Gary Bechtel said, "Let's not try to kill a fly with a hammer. This agreement has nothing to do with promoting under-reporting of school offenses. You're required to do it. If there is an issue there, then find ways to resolve that issue, but don't go after an agreement that's trying to find better ways to handle kids' disciplinary problems without aggravating them."
That opened the floor for questions and comments from board members, causing members of the community to react and applaud when their concerns were mentioned.
During those comments, Ella Carter said she spoke to at least 21 school employees and community members, and she listed their concerns. Meanwhile, Susan Middleton spoke of her experience in the classroom.
Gary Bechtel asked why the board waited until now to have the discussion. His questions went unanswered but there were some details that the district did give.
Initially, the meeting was supposed to be a discussion of the issues, but there were some policy decisions that came up.
First, the superintendent announced he's going to search for a public relations and communications official to help improve how information gets around within the district and outside district offices.
Also, Deputy Superintendent of Sstudent affairs, Ed Judie, made a few recommendations to the board on more things they could do to improve safety.
One was to issue a Campus police task force to identify and interact with at risk students.
He also wants to see random searches at least once a month, where students' belongings would be searched for contraband, and canines will be used to search common areas like lockers bathrooms and classrooms.
Judie also proposed a new data reporting policy, where Principals would have to input discipline incidents into a computer system.
David Gowan, Director of Risk Management, went over the safe haven report. He said it would take 6 to 18 months to go through all recommendatons, then prioritize and implement them.
Gowan also said they will improve the district's emergency response plans, by changing the code sytem. For instance, they would use plain language instead of "code yellow" or "code red". They also plan to train all employees in the school to be a part of the emergency response plans, and not just administrators and teachers.
Board President, Tommy Barnes, says starting in October, they'll get a monthly update from the Superintendent on what they're doing to improve safety and discipline in Bibb schools.