Georgia Superintendents, SROs Meet with Governor to Share Safety Concerns
School leaders shared stories of their districts’ struggles with student violence and mental health concerns.
ATLANTA, Ga. — Georgia superintendents, school resource officers, lawmakers, and state and local law enforcement met with Governor Brian Kemp Thursday to discuss growing concerns regarding school safety and student wellbeing.
At the meeting, which was held at the governor’s mansion, school leaders shared their districts’ struggles with keeping students safe and what they believe are the leading causes, reports AJC.
Jeff Bearden, superintendent of Forsyth County Schools, said the pandemic has taken a social and emotional toll on students and that “there are more kids in crisis today than ever before.” In Bibb County, four students died by suicide this school year, including an elementary student.
Mary Elizabeth Davis, the Henry County superintendent, told AJC that principals are having a hard time connecting with students after the disruptions of the pandemic, making it more difficult for them to intervene in conflicts. She said disciplinary incidents are down in her schools but there is “heightened intensity” in those that occur.
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, who has seven deputies assigned to local schools, blamed social media apps such as TikTok, indicating posts have led to assaults on teachers and vandalism. Davis also said students recording school fights and posting on social media is provoking combatants, making them harder to break up.
In Fulton County, a child brought a loaded gun to school the day before the meeting with the governor. At the beginning of the school year, two guns were found on the same day at Tri-Cities High School.
“We don’t just recognize the physical dangers facing our students but also the mental and emotional ones as well, and especially after two years of an unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic,” Kemp said. “We’ve seen that ourselves, with our daughters and their friends and other parents we’ve talked to across the state.”
During the meeting, Kemp discussed the state’s funding initiatives. According to AJC, so far in Georgia’s ongoing legislative session, Kemp has secured full funding for schools after years of budget cuts. He completed a 2018 campaign to raise teacher pay by $5,000, adding $2,000 to the $3,000 raise received in 2019. Teachers and support staff were also given a $2,000 bonus.
Kemp also discussed the $69 million in school safety grants he secured in 2019 and money he helped funnel into the Apex program, which pays community-based mental health providers to offer services to schools.
Davis said the grants have been helpful but continued funding is needed to hire people to address the current issues.
“Bridges can’t be built over those gaps by well-intended educators,” she said. “We actually need systemic resources there.”