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Local schools boost security following Conn. shooting
From staff reports

The deadly shootings at a Connecticut elementary school Friday prompted school officials in the Tennessee Valley to tighten security.

"The biggest fear is that you may have a copycat situation," Decatur City Schools Supervisor of Safety Dwight Satterfield said. "The unfortunate truth is that schools are like any other place and not immune from this type of violence."

After asking Decatur police to increase patrols around the city's 18 school sites, Satterfield said he monitored the situation in Connecticut.

"We told all our employees to be more vigilant," Satterfield said. "This time of year, it's good for everyone to be a little more patient and courteous because you don't know what the person next to you may be going through."

Limestone County Superintendent Thomas Sisk put his schools and the system's six school resource officers on heightened alert. He asked principals, faculty and staff who use televisions to avoid news broadcasts about the Connecticut shootings "so we won't alarm the children."

Limestone guidance counselors will be available for any child who needs to talk about the shootings.

"When I first learned about the shootings, I was horrified and deeply saddened," Sisk said. "Any violence against children, especially when you've got a K-4 school, is just heinous."

Athens Superintendent Orman Bridges Jr., Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. and Hartselle Superintendent Mike Reed said the shootings raised concern, but they tried to keep the school day normal.

"We've done nothing more than what we would normally do," Reed said. "Our teachers and staff are also diligent to keep an eye on it. ... We're trying to keep things as normal as possible."

A Morgan County office employee posted condolences for the shooting victims and their families on the system's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Bridges and Sisk said school violence usually occurs on the secondary level, but the Connecticut shooting is not the first in an elementary school.

"The biggest safety concern for elementary schools usually surrounds custody disputes," Bridges said.

Sisk said he recently watched the Limestone County Sheriff's Department conduct an emergency readiness drill at one of his schools.

"The sheriff and his deputies take any type of threat seriously," Sisk said.

The state requires school systems and schools to submit an annual safety plan. They also must report when they hold regular lockdown, fire and tornado drills.

Schools require visitors to sign in at the front office before entering school buildings. Sisk and Bridges said they do not favor fencing campuses or installing metal detectors at schools.

"We don't want to turn schools into armed camps," Sisk said. "There's got to be a better way to help protect our children."

Bridges said he doesn't want children to "feel like they're going to school in a jail. They need to feel like they're attending in wholesome and secure environments."

Hopkins said a violent "random act where someone just goes into a building" is almost impossible to predict.

"Speaking as a parent, what people really want from us when their children leave home in the morning or when they drop their child off at school is that we will be able to return them safely to them," he said. "This kind of incident makes me realize how important the safety of our children is."

Daily reporters Lucy Berry, Bayne Hughes and DeAngelo McDaniel contributed to this report.

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