Public Safety & Homeland Security

In Wake of Huffman High School Shooting, School Officials Continue to Evaluate Safety Procedures

'When something like this happens close to home, naturally you are going to pause and think that it really can happen anywhere.'

by Justin Graves, The Decatur Daily, Ala. / March 9, 2018

(TNS) - Dwight Satterfield cringed when he saw the news.

One Huffman, Ala., High School student was killed and another was wounded Wednesday afternoon in a Birmingham school shooting.

Satterfield, the director of operations and safety at Decatur City Schools, said tragedies of this nature occur far too frequently, which is why school officials statewide are evaluating policies to increase school security.

"When something like this happens close to home, naturally you are going to pause and think that it really can happen anywhere,” Satterfield said.

On Thursday, Satterfield was in Montgomery meeting with school officials from across the state and Department of Homeland Security representatives to discuss school security.

The meeting was scheduled in the wake of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three school employees were killed. Nikolas Cruz, 19, was indicted Wednesday on 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

“School security and crisis management procedures are important,” said Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools Executive Director Vic Wilson. “Over the years, the emphasis always was placed on fire and weather safety procedures, but in today’s world, this is another aspect that needs to be closely evaluated and discussed.”

Huffman senior Courtland Arrington, 17, sustained a fatal gunshot wound Wednesday at about 3:45 p.m. in what Birmingham law enforcement officials are calling an “accidental shooting.”

An unidentified suspect, who also is a Huffman student, is being held in custody. According to a release from the Birmingham Police Department, charges are pending a review by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

The suspect also sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg, according to police.

Even though the Huffman shooting was not an active shooter incident, it adds another layer to the school safety discussion.

“It’s a very unfortunate example of why educators have to be prepared for these type of situations,” Decatur High Principal Johnny Berry said.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, one of the security measures frequently mentioned is the use of metal detectors as a safeguard to prevent firearms, or other weapons, from being brought into schools.

At Huffman, however, metal detectors did not prevent a firearm from being brought onto campus. Birmingham City Schools is one of the state’s few systems that employs metal detectors at all school facilities and functions. Metal detectors also are used for off-campus athletic events, such as football games at Lawson Field and Legion Field.

No schools in Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties use metal detectors.

“I’m not sure metal detectors are a viable option, at least here at our schools in Decatur,” Satterfield said. “The first issue is the number of entrances to the building. There are too many to have employees stationed at every entrance to operate the metal detectors.

“You also have students changing classes every few hours at the high schools, so students are moving from building to building. It would be almost impossible to scan every student throughout the day.”

Lawrence County school system attorney Michael Terry agreed.

“Lawrence County High School has 14 entrances,” he said last week. “Are you going to have 14 metal detectors and armed officers working them? We don’t have enough money to fund teachers and supplies.”

Satterfield believes two viable solutions for school security are providing crisis management training to faculty members and increasing the number of school resource law enforcement officers.

Decatur City Schools employs eight resource officers. Satterfield said the school system splits the cost with the Decatur Police Department.

“First and foremost, I believe training our faculty is extremely important,” Satterfield said. “If a situation were to occur, you want the faculty to be prepared on how to properly respond. We also have to take a look at the design of our buildings and how we monitor access points."

In Lawrence County, the Sheriff's Office implemented a new tip line Thursday related to school safety and security. According to a release from the Sheriff's Office, anyone with information that can help prevent school violence can leave an anonymous message at 256-410-4134, but law enforcement officials encourage callers to leave as much information as possible.

Similar discussions are occurring at school systems throughout the state.

“Every school and system is different. What works at a rural school might not be effective for another school, so our school leaders are putting everything on the table and trying to figure out what are the best policies for their schools,” Wilson said.


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