Parents call for more security after Dalton High School classroom shooting incident

Parents call for more security after Dalton High School classroom shooting incident

March 14th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Board of education members Matt Evans, Richard Fromm and Palmer Griffin listen to parents and other community members voice their questions Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at Dalton High School in Dalton, Ga. The Dalton Board of Education hosted a public forum on school safety to present ideas to the community as well as to provide members of the community the opportunity to speak.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Correction: A previous version of this story said Randal Davidson was arrested for setting his car on fire in Dade County, Ga., in August 2016. In fact, he was not criminally charged. He was taken to a hospital.

Gallery: Parents voice concerns after Dalton High shooting

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When Sharon Richard's daughter heard that a shooter was inside Dalton High School two weeks ago, she ran to a classroom.

The room was packed, Richard recalled Tuesday night. A substitute teacher was inside, scrolling through her phone, looking up instructions for how to respond to an active shooter in a building. Richard's son, meanwhile, sat in Central Park in New York City, texting his sister tips to stay safe.

Nobody was injured that afternoon, Feb. 28. Dalton police say social studies teacher Jesse Randal Davidson carried a .38 revolver inside his computer case. He taught first period, then locked his door during his planning period. When students tried to enter around 11:30 a.m., he kept them outside. When a principal tried to open the door, police say, Davidson fired out a window.

On Tuesday night, during a forum with the Board of Education inside the high school's auditorium, some parents wondered how students and teachers could better respond if someone ever opens fire there again. More importantly, they said, how could they prevent it?

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Like other parents, Richard had ideas. All teachers and substitutes should have better training she said. Acting superintendent Don Amonett added that the staff already goes through lockdown training. And substitute teacher Beth Looper, who was in the building at the time, said she knew what to do, though she couldn't speak for every sub.

The campus already has one school resource officer, but she thinks they should have two: one for every 1,000 students. She first heard the idea after the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., where a man killed 17 students and staff.

She also thinks the students should have IDs, which only allow them to open doors in classrooms in which they are enrolled. And the board should look into installing metal detectors at the entrances. If it's good enough for airports, Richard said, it's good enough for schools.

"The gun should have never been brought into the building," she said.

But several parents also told the board the school should be stricter with teachers' criminal backgrounds. In Davidson's case, the Dade County Sheriff's Office was called to his home in August 2016, after he allegedly lit his own car on fire and marched around his property with a rifle. He was then taken to a hospital. A month later, he told the Dalton Police Department he arranged to have his mistress killed because she was a bad mother to their twins.

The department did not pursue that case. An officer wrote in a report that Davidson had been taking medication for depression and seemed delusional. Police spokesman Bruce Frazier told the Times Free Press that investigators could find no evidence that the woman Davidson spoke of even existed.

"I wanted to find out if anything has been implemented, as far as doing mental health evaluations on students and staff," said Dora Aguirre, the mother of an elementary and a middle school student.

Without going into details, Amonett told her that teachers have to clear certain bars to even get into a classroom.

"Do we do emotional tests on every staff member?" he said. "No we do not. That's why we're looking at other ideas to see what we want to bring in."

He added that school administrators are trying to figure out if they can better educate staff and students about warning signs of an emotionally unhealthy person. He has not fleshed out what that would look like.

Amonett added that, since Feb. 28, guards have staffed a shack in front of the school, checking with all drivers as they enter and leave during school hours. They've also reviewed lockdown procedures with students and replaced some intercom speakers with louder ones.

This morning, in the wake of the shooting in Florida, students across the country plan to walk out of their classes in protest. It's not clear if that will happen here. Principal Steve Bartoo said Tuesday night he does not know of an organized walkout.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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