School Board explains its extensive security measures in effort to quell parents' concerns

Tommy Comeaux

In light of the many active shooter incidents in schools across the nation, the Iberville Parish School Board wants to let the public know they have had a plan in place to prevent similar incidents from causing tragedy at local schools.

“We do have a comprehensive security plan and one of the things that I cannot do as superintentendent is to go into so much detail about it that the bad guys know the ins and outs of it because then we’re putting bullet holes in our own protection system,” Superintendent Arthur Joffrion, Ed.D., said.

He called a meeting with Sheriff Brett Stassi, the school systems building supervisor, a School Board member and others in an effort to get the message out that the School Board and law enforcement are working together to keep the parish’s students safe.

Joffrion said when he became superintendent, he met with each member of the School Board separately and to a person, their most serious concern was the safety of the students.

Stassi said his office’s role in the school system’s security plan was to have school resource officers, or SROs, uniformed deputies at each school. “Iberville Parish is way ahead of the curve in terms of the placement of SROs,” he commented.

The two agreed there is a great understanding and cooperation between the School Board and the Sheriff’s Office and while having a school resource officer at each school is new to the parish – previously some schools shared one – one phone call was all it took to change that.

“I got a call from the superintendent asking if we could adjust the hours of our SROs in Maringouin,” Stassi said. “One photo call, one radio call and the hours changed. We’re there when the bus picks students up from school and we’re there at the exchange point.”

“We have a great working relationship with the school board and all of its members,” he continued. “It’s a very active School Board organization we have here.”

Likely the most important feature of the school security system is the means by which visitors are allowed to enter the schools.

“We have only one entry point, the front door,” Joffrion said. “All of the other doors are locked and can only be opened by someone with the clearance to have been issued a security card that can be used to open other doors.”

Any visitor to any school also has to pass through a metal detector before entering the portion of a school where students are.

“We wanted to put something in place that would limit access to visitors through all of the entrances except the front door,” he said, which creates a welcome center in the school’s main office. “You can walk into the office but you can’t’ get into the school unless you’re buzzed in to the actual school portion where the students are.”

“Even School Board members have to use security cards,” said School Board member Chris Daigle. “Prior to a few years ago, we didn’t have any of this in place at all.”

“The new plan that the School Board approved was $1.5 million worth of security upgrades within the school system,,” he continued, and more improvements and more money will be put into school security in the near feature.

TheSheriff’s Office has been an important part of the plan from its outset.

“When the superintendent and the board said security was an issue, we came up with a comprehensive safety and security plan,” Stassi said, beginning with a list of priorities. Major Jim Cox was assigned to prioritize the list.

“The School Board said money was no object,” he continued. “You do what you need to do and ultimately the board approved the plan.”

A second important feature are security cameras, said facilities director Randy Morales, who said the system has recently been upgraded. He also said the School Board is working on connecting the schools’ cameras directly to the Sheriff’s Office and municipal law enforcement agencies so they can be monitored by law enforcement as well as school employees.

“That way, they can see what’s happening in the schools in real time,” Rice said.

“We did all of this proactively,” Joffrion said, in light of the seemingly endless stream of incidents in schools around the country.

“We have also set up training for all of the principals so we can heighten awareness,” Stassi said. “There’s all kinds of things that you can do at the school level that we have talked and met on.”

He continued by saying there will be active shooter drills that everyone will know about in advance to prepare students, teachers, principals and other school employees how to handle a situation involving an armed person on campus.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make those drills as real as possible so everyone can learn from them,” Stassi said.

He said the school resource officers are trained and expected to confront any active shooter before he can get into the school, he continued.

“We – the School Board and the Sheriff’s Office – are not going to publicize all of the things that we have in place because it allows the people who would ant to do something to know what security measures in place,” Stassi said.

“We know that parents want to know that their kids are safe and we aim to ensure that every child in every school is 100 percent safe to the best of our abilities,” Joffrion said. “We take strong measure but we can’t divulge all of what parents and other people in the parish might want to know for security reasons.

“We just want everyone to know that we are doing everything possible to keep our students and teachers safe,” he said.

“Our first priority is to keep our kids safe that our parents feel safe to send their kids to school,” Daigle said.