School leaders deal with threats, school safety

-A A +A

Campbellsville High School receives second threat in less than a week

By Zac Oakes



A second threatening note was discovered at Campbellsville High School Tuesday afternoon. This makes the second time a potentially threatening message has been discovered within the past week.

Neither of the messages contained any direct threat to a particular school, student, or staff member. Campbellsville Police were called and are continuing to provide an increased presence at the school for added security, according to CIS Superintendent Kirby Smith.

The note discovered on Tuesday afternoon was in an upstairs female restroom at Campbellsville High School, according to a release from the school district. This message was written on a piece of toilet paper in the restroom. The note read "Cville will be next", which is nearly identical to the threatening note discovered last Friday which stated "Cville is next."

There is no indication as of yet if the messages were left by the same student. However, Smith said district and law enforcement officials are investigating the situation by reviewing surveillance footage to see which students entered the particular restroom during the time frame in which it is believed the message was written.

"The safety of all CIS students and staff members is always a top priority, and we do not take that lightly," Smith wrote in a statement.

A similar incident occurred last Friday when law enforcement responded to the school after a message was written in a bathroom stall. That incident is still under investigation, according to Smith, as school and law enforcement officials try to determine when the message was written.

Smith said that a group of female CHS students discovered the message on Friday inside a bathroom stall. Smith said that the message was written very small, and they were not able to determine when the message was written.

The students photographed the note and brought it to the attention of CHS Principal David Petett. Smith said he coincidentally had just walked into the school on a typical walk-through when the students reported the note to Petett. Smith said he applauded the way the students handled the situation, as Smith said they were not frightened, but felt compelled to tell Petett about the note.

Smith also said he was pleased with the way the district as a whole handled the situation. They quickly put together a statement, notified parents and district employees, and discussed the situation with students.

“We didn’t want to hide anything,” Smith said. “We wanted to get out in front of it.”


Taking threats seriously

The threatening messages left at Campbellsville High School have brought the issue of school safety to a local level.

In the wake of school shootings in Marshall County and most recently in Parkland, Florida, as well as the rash of threats at school districts across the state, subsequent discussions on school safety have come to the forefront of attention for school administrators and government officials.

Locally, Kirby Smith of the Campbellsville Independent School District and Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County Schools, said threats at school must now be taken with the utmost precaution.

Both noted that law enforcement will become immediately involved with any threat against the school, which is evidenced by Campbellsville Police being involved in the investigation into the two threats discovered at Campbellsville High School.

Students are being encouraged to report any threats to a teacher or to the principal, and principals are being told to immediately contact law enforcement if it is determined that a threat was made.

“Anybody who makes a threat of any kind, joking or not, will be dealt with seriously,” Cook said. “It will be kind of like it is at the airport. If you make a joke about terrorism at an airport, they take you behind closed doors. So anybody that makes any kind of threat, anywhere, will be automatically turned over to law enforcement.”


Improving Security at Campbellsville and Taylor County schools

In their respective school districts, Smith and Cook are looking at different ways to improve the safety of their schools.

At Campbellsville Independent Schools, Smith said they have already made a couple of major changes aimed at improving security. The first, which was implemented this week, made a change to how students at Campbellsville High School enter the building in the morning. The new procedure, implemented by Petett, now involves each student entering through the main front doors of the school by the gymnasium, as opposed to using two different entrances during the morning drop-off.

Another noticeable difference was the implementation of several new security cameras around Campbellsville Middle and High schools. These cameras were placed in December and provide a more comprehensive view outside of the schools, according to Smith. New cameras were placed around Campbellsville Elementary School during its recent construction project.

Next on the list for Smith is the introduction of a school resource officer (SRO) for the district. The district currently does not have an SRO, and hasn’t for a few years, Smith said. However, he wants to add an SRO, a sworn law enforcement officer primarily tasked with working in a school setting, through a partnership with the city of Campbellsville and the Campbellsville Police Department.

Smith said he has had discussions with Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young, dating back to around November, about the need for an SRO in the Campbellsville Independent School District and he is hopeful that one could be in place as early as next school year.

SROs have to undergo unique training to work in a school setting, and it could potentially involve someone new being hired to fulfill the role, although details of a potential SRO in the district are still being discussed.

Smith said they could serve in many roles, and he looks forward to potentially having an SRO in the district.

“That’s our goal in the near future, to have one in our district,” Smith said. “I believe it would be very beneficial and I’m looking forward to that partnership.”

At the Taylor County School District, three SROs are already employed and doing a great job, according to Cook. There are two SROs that cover the district’s campuses on Broadway, which include Taylor County Primary Center, Taylor County Intermediate, and Taylor County Middle School. The other is assigned to Taylor County High School.

Cook said the SROs regularly patrol the schools and are armed, just like any other law enforcement officer.

They work at the Taylor County Schools through a partnership with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office. SROs are deputy sheriffs through the TCSO.

As of now, Cook said they have not really looked at adding another SRO to the district, and noted that the district already exceeds $100,000 with everything calculated on the SROs.

Cook said the district has reviewed its procedures for active shooter situations twice recently, and may re-examine it a third time before the end of the school year.

Another possible idea the district is looking into is large, expandable door stops that can be placed under doors to prevent a potential shooter from entering a classroom. Although doors are locked in scenarios such as these, most locks can be shot out. These door stops would prevent a shooter from opening a door even if the locks were shot out.

Cook said he has looked into purchasing enough of them to place on every door in each of the district’s four schools. It would cost between $50,000 and $70,000 to outfit approximately 400 classroom doors, but Cook said if they can save a child’s life, then they are worth the investment.

“I’m negotiating on some better prices,” Cook said. “But it is all worth it when it comes to saving a child’s life.”


Arming teachers? Metal Detectors? Smith, Cook weigh in on popular discussions

In the age of social media, there has been extensive discussion online about what measures could be implemented in order to better secure student safety while at school.

Opinions have varied about what action should be taken, and the recent tragedies have renewed gun control discussions at the state and federal levels. In terms of school safety, a couple of ideas have come to the forefront of discussion as possible solutions.

One involves arming teachers or staff members at the schools. The idea has had supporters for a while, but has grown even more after United States President Donald Trump voiced support for the idea, to a degree.

Cook said he isn’t opposed to arming selected staff members at each school, possibly as many as 10 staff members per school. He said those staff members would be chosen based on physical and character evaluations, and first and foremost, getting an idea of “who feels like they could do it and who has the intestinal fortitude.”

He also noted that those individuals would have to undergo extensive training and he would refer to law enforcement for the type of training those individuals would need to complete. Cook added that those who were armed would need to be kept anonymous—similar to marshals on airplanes— and the weapon would need to be stored in a lockbox.

“I’m not for giving them to every teacher, but I wouldn’t be opposed to giving them to select staff,” Cook said.

Smith said that while he is a gun owner, he doesn’t necessarily believe arming teachers and/or staff members is the right move at this time, but left the door open that it could be an idea that is examined later. Smith said the district is more focused on securing an SRO, but said that later, he would be open to evaluating the situation and potentially examining if arming staff members at the schools would increase safety.

“There would definitely need to be a lot of training, but I could see it getting to that,” Smith said. “There are a lot of churches where members of the church walk the halls and they are carrying. It may come to a point where schools do something like that too, but obviously it would need to be done with the right training… I think I may be OK with that. I don’t think anyone who has their concealed carry license should be allowed to carry right now, I’m not for that, but I would entertain an idea to see what it looks like with proper training.

… So all that being said, I’m not ready to say let’s just arm the school, but I do think it could be a deterrent. Right now, we are focused on getting a school resource officer in our district.”

As for metal detectors in schools, another idea that has been popularly discussed, Smith and Cook both agreed that there are too many logistical problems when it comes to the devices.

“Metal detectors only give parents peace of mind,” Cook said. “That’s all they do. If somebody with a gun wants to come in, they aren’t coming through a metal detector. They’ll find their way in through another door or entryway.”

Both noted that having metal detectors at each door, with someone to operate them, would be very difficult to do, and with a majority of students arriving at school in the same time window, it would be nearly impossible to get students scanned through and into their classrooms by the time school starts.

“I don’t think you can have a metal detector just for the school day,” Smith said. “I think you would need it for all your events, athletic events, and that sounds like it would be difficult logistically, especially with outdoor events. Maybe it could be a deterrent, but I’m not sure that metal detectors are the answer.”  

They also mentioned that having students lined up outside to go through metal detector screenings could potentially leave them vulnerable if a shooter were to approach the school.

All that being said, both Smith and Cook believe that metal detectors would likely not be an effective means of improving safety at the schools.


‘There is not an easy solution’

As education administrators and legislators weigh the issue of school safety, it is clear that there is a wide array of opinions, but no clear cut answer as to what can or should be done.

For Smith, he said he thinks it is important for teachers and school officials to continue loving and caring for the students and creating relationships.

“Those relationships we have with our students and parents are as crucial as anything,” Smith said. “Just knowing the students and having students who feel like they can come to someone if they see or hear something… that makes you feel good when you have that relationship there.”

But Smith recognized that there is no easy solution to the issue. Cook backed up that sentiment, and both agreed that they don’t want schools to be similar to prisons.

“If you want to be perfectly safe, put a wire fence around the school and have armed guards at the gate and screen everyone who comes through,” Cook said. “Make it a 10-foot fence with wire on top… but then it’s like you’re bringing your kids to a prison. That’s a sad state we’ve come to if that is what we have to do.”

“I’m definitely not in favor of our schools being like prisons,” Smith said. “I want our kids to feel free and roam through the buildings and not worry about something like having class outdoors one day.”

Cook said he frequently hears concerns about parents feeling like it is unsafe to bring their children to school.

“Well, do you feel safe sending them to church?” he said. “Or theaters, malls, where do you feel safe sending them?.. I’m just not going to let a possible domestic terrorist determine how I live.”

“There just aren’t any easy solutions when it comes to school safety,” Smith said. “There are a lot of parts that factor in. It’s a complicated issue, but we are striving every day to keep our students safe.”

“Right now, it’s just complicated,” Cook added. “But we will do what we can to keep our kids safe.”