MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY – The McCracken County school district is taking extra steps this year and investing in your students’ safety.

First grade teacher Joy Beth McGough is getting ready for 21 new students. “It’s just a fresh start. It’s exciting. They got their new school supplies. It’s exciting even for the teachers,” she said.

She calls it her calling. After 12 years of teaching, she has seen the school change over time: more drills, more locked doors, more awareness.

“I just can’t help but to think about the teachers that experienced the shooting at Marshall County now,” McGough said “Their sense of security has probably — is probably gone. They no longer — at a school they felt was safe, they probably have lost that sense of safety. I’ve always felt safe here. My experiences have been good. That could always change if something were to happen.”

It hasn’t happened at Hendron Lone Oak, but it has happened within McCracken County Public Schools. At Heath High School on Dec. 1, 1997, three lives were lost and other students were wounded.

Brian Harper wasn’t the superintendent back then, but he’s studied the response to that shooting. “The main thing during that time, we hired school resource officers,” he said. “Up until last year, we had the greatest ratio of resource officers to students in the state.”  That’s when other schools finally started bringing officers in.

Harper said they are also required by law to have safety plans that are reviewed every year, not only by educators, but by first responders.

Things have changed, once again. “With the tragedy that has happened in Marshall County, everyone is wanting to make sure their schools are safe,” Harper said.

Over summer break, Harper said principals at every school reviewed their safety plans, took an online active shooter training course, and added more cameras in and around the schools. The district is also investing $100,000 into your kids’ safety this year.

“We’re adding sally ports in to Hendron Lone Oak Elementary School, to Heath Elementary School, and Lone Oak Elementary School,” Harper said. The sally ports should be done by the time your kids are back in school.

A sally port is like a bridge from the outside world to the school. To get in the school, you have to press a buzzer, and front office staff can see and hear you through a camera and speaker system. Then, they will let you in.

I asked McGough if she thinks schools are still a safe place. She said absolutely. “I know our administration in the front office are keeping an eye on the cameras and doors, who’s coming in and out of our building,” she said.

Harper said the statistics are proof. “I think when you look at the research, that the Centers for Disease Control shows that schools are safe places,” he said.

That study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control calls homicides at school rare. The report found 2.6 percent of youth homicides happened at school. That number has remained about the same for the past decade. You can see that study here: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/School_Violence_Fact_Sheet-a.pdf

“I’ve always felt safe here at Hendron,” McGough said. She said the sally port is another layer of safety.

Harper said there are two schools in his district without sally ports right now: Concord Elementary and Lone Oak Middle. Those schools do have a type of buzz-in system, but Harper plans to update those schools, possibly this school year.

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