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West Lincoln parents upgrading school security — School officials, parents, officers taking hard look at county school safety

While school and law enforcement officials tour county school campuses in preparation for revised safety policies, a community-backed fundraiser to beef up classroom security at West Lincoln is almost complete.

West Lincoln parent Melaine Smith Daigle said the fundraiser needs only $1,000 more before it can make a bulk order for a simple security device designed to jam up classroom doorways. She said she first learned of the devices a year ago and — like school officials and parents nationwide — felt compelled to start the fundraiser after last month’s school shooting in Florida.

“I felt like something needed to be done to protect our students, faculty and administrators,” Daigle said. “The device is not the answer, but I feel like it’s one more layer of protection, and that gives me peace of mind as a parent.”

The West Lincoln group is looking to make a bulk order of the Barracuda Intruder Defense System, a simple security device comprised of a steel bar that slides under the door and expands outward to grasp doorframe corners and can be locked into place. The device is designed so that even if the door handle or knob fails, it grips the door firmly and prevents it from swinging open. It is not a permanent installation and can be stored near doorways for quick access.

Daigle said she and school officials toured West Lincoln during spring break to count classroom doors. It will cost $5,720 to purchase the 52 units needed to brace the doors.

So far, the fundraiser has collected $4,880 from local parents, grandparents and businesses. Anyone who wants to donate may do so via PayPal or by visiting Bank of Brookhaven, where an account has been set up.

“We have a lady from Louisiana who saw our fundraiser online and donated,” Daigle said. “She said she just wanted to help.”

Once purchased, the Barracuda devices would be donated to the school for installation. Daigle said the group hopes to have the devices shipped by the end of the school year and ready for installation by the start of the next school year this fall.

Daigle said the West Lincoln community is pitching in money for the Barracuda system because it will be faster and easier to donate the devices rather than wait for the school or district to go through the ordering process.

During the spring break walkthrough of West Lincoln, Daigle said other security-lacking areas of the school were identified, like solid glass doors that should be replaced with wood or steel, and unwired glass on the elementary side.

Those are all items district and law enforcement officials are looking at as they work to tour all four Lincoln County schools and discuss options for safety improvements.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers said evaluations of all four campuses are ongoing, and he expects new security guidelines set out by the state Department of Education to be adopted as soon as they are finalized.

Myers and administrators from all four school’s crisis management teams will attend Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training April 4 at Easthaven Baptist Church.

“I’m hoping it will give us a degree of confidence to minimize potential tragedy,” he said. “We want to make sure people know what to do to enhance the safety of the children we’re entrusted to protect.”

Myers said the district is also looking into the possibility of a Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools grant to hire resource officers. None of the four county schools currently have resource officers, but rely on the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to do daily patrols and walkthroughs.

Sheriff Steve Rushing said there are multiple options for placing officers in schools, and much depends on funding. Although his office keeps at least four deputies on shift daily, he does not have the manpower to place officers permanently at the schools.

“We are one of the few county districts that has four full K-12 schools, and that gives us more costs to deal with,” Rushing said. “We’ve been looking at cost estimates and I’ve given them a couple different options on how to do it. The final plan would be up to the school.”

In the meantime, Rushing said the sheriff’s office would maintain readiness. He said all Lincoln County deputies go through active-shooter training, and all new officers coming out of the law enforcement academy are taught the same tactics.

“We don’t advertise it a lot,” he said. “We don’t want a lot of our response plan to be public.”