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Huntsville Times: Madison City School Security Task Force presents preliminary findings

By Yvonne T. Betowt, The Huntsville Times

April 22, 2010, 6:00AM

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MADISON, AL - Towanda Moore hopes Wednesday night's preliminary report of the Madison City School Security Task Force will prevent any other parent experiencing the loss of their child as she did Feb. 5.

Her son, Discovery Middle School student Todd Brown, was allegedly shot by a fellow student during a class change that fateful day.

As a result, Madison City and school officials authorized a school Security Task Force to investigate what measures could have prevented the tragedy and offer recommendations on improving safety in the local schools.

Moore listened intently as the committee chair, retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet, and several members of the task force discussed the findings and recommendations that came after 60 days of interviews with local school officials, police officers, parents, students and community leaders.

Some of the task force recommendations included adding more school resource officers, locking school doors, cameras in the classrooms and commons areas and checking driver's licenses of school visitors.

But the recommendation that drew the most interest among school and city officials is allowing students to send anonymous text messages to report unusual behavior or other information to school officials.
The Task Force also plans to conduct a survey among students, teachers, parents and other interested parties as part of Phase II of its project.

"I was very pleased with the report," said Moore, who said she is "still healing" from the ordeal. "The ideals and procedures they offered are definitely on target. I think many of them would have helped (prevent Todd's death). Communication is the key."

Discovery Elementary School Principal Sharon Willis was also pleased with the report.
"I was very impressed," said Willis. "I thought they were very thorough with wanting to do a survey and anonymous texting."

Committee co-chair Mary Jane Caylor, a longtime member of the State School Board of Education and former Huntsville City Schools superintendent, said it's time for school systems to utilize today's technology to keep communication lines open with students.

"We are missing a great opportunity in not using the technology our children have grown up with," she said. "I know (the use of cell phones) is controversial, but children might open more if they have the right to use their equipment. When 10 to 12 children know something, they are more likely to share it."

Drolet, who expanded the original committee from 8 to 33, said the support he has received from the city and school officials has been "overwhelming" and he believes the task force has made "great progress" during the past 60 days.

He said the schools are in "relatively good shape and safe," but said administrators must find a way to provide more school resource officers.

"Some of the (recommendations) are not expensive, but some come with a cost," Drolet said.

Police Chief Larry Muncey said the Madison Police Department shares the cost of officers with the school system, paying for their time during the summer months while the schools pay the other 180 days.
He said his department was waiting on the task force recommendations before surging ahead with the anonymous texting avenue for students.

"I guarantee it will be implemented by the 2010-11 school year, but hopefully before the end of this year," said Muncey who said he was "shocked at how brutally honest" the task force report is.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley and Madison School Superintendent Dee Fowler, who commissioned the task force, were both impressed with the findings.

"They exceeded my expectations, which were high, and this will take a little time to digest," said Finley. "We will start to immediately act on areas we can and plan areas of support where we can."

Fowler knows the system has its work cut out to begin implementing as many recommendations as soon as possible. He also plans to work with Huntsville City and Madison County school systems, or any other system that is interested in implementing better security measures in their schools.

"I was overwhelmed with the comprehensive level of experts and knowledge of the task force members," said Fowler. "We promise to share their ideas with anyone interested."

Fowler was especially interested in the fact more resource officers are recommended and he particularly likes the idea of anonymous text messages.

Finley wrapped up the meeting by assuring Towanda Moore and all other parents that the City of Madison has made a commitment "this will not happen again."

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