Parents and school staff addressed the Rome Board of Education, pleading for changes to the school system’s culture on top of new security measures after two loaded pistols were found on high school students.
“I’m infuriated by the incidents that occurred last week,” school counselor Miriam Loveless told the board Tuesday. “The students who walked into Rome High School last week with loaded guns were students who have a history of discipline issues. In fact, one of the students attended my school and I dealt with continuous angry outbursts, bullying and constant disrespect.
“More importantly, the students in class with this child saw and dealt with that behavior every day … but they came to school ready to learn. I’m tired and extremely frustrated seeing students, year after year, come back into the classroom and destroy a teacher’s teaching and a student’s love of learning.
“Could an elementary teacher predict last week’s events? More than likely,” Loveless added. “These two students walked into Rome High School not changed from their elementary years. The students have become more bold, aggressive and have more accessibility to more dangerous tools of destruction.
“This has come out in a way that we finally have to respond to,” she said. “Luckily no one was hurt.
“Teachers are working hard to build relationships, they bend over backwards making their classrooms a place of safety and learning. We must address this now or more incidents are going to occur like last week.
“As educators we’re to teach students how to deal with emotions, handle daily problems and simply educate them,” she said. “I appreciate the stress on the safety protocols but there’s an underlying cause that must be addressed. We must create preventative and proactive solutions…”
At that point, Loveless was cut off by board Chair Jill Fisher. Each of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was limited by the school system’s policy restricting each person to two minutes of time as well barring addresses to specific faculty members.
Fisher on Wednesday said the board took many of the comments from Tuesday’s meeting seriously, and they are aware of discipline concerns from the elementary level up.
“We are all very concerned and very focused on safety; it is critical to all of us,” she said, adding that she has a junior at Rome High School and two other board members have children in the school system. “We are all invested in Rome City Schools personally.”
The board reviewed new security procedures, including revised and clarified policies concerning when and how student searches are allowed, security scanning devices and the use of drug dogs in the schools.
Interim Superintendent Dawn Williams outlined security changes within the school system as well as proposed procedures concerning interviews and searches of students on school grounds and at functions.
During the meeting, board member Pascha Burge abstained from each vote of approval. Once the meeting concluded, she immediately began consulting with the school system’s attorney Chris Twyman.
Contacted Wednesday, Burge said she chose to abstain from voting because she didn’t feel she was given time to fully understand the issues discussed during the closed session prior to the meeting.
“I didn’t have enough time to ask the questions that needed to be answered,” Burge said. She declined to comment on the topic, or questions, addressed during that closed session.
Several parents also addressed the board at the meeting, stating that the leadership had failed by not hiring a superintendent prior to the start of the school year. The continued inaction, they said, has led to where they are now.
“Two incidents at Rome High last week shocked our system,” one parent, Alexis Artis-Payne, told the board.
She made a comparison of her perceived inaction of the board to indecisive leadership during and after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead.
“Ultimately the community needs a clear sense of direction and the assurance that the primary decision makers are competent,” she said. “Please do not let us bleed out as a system. We need competent leadership.”
Williams has served as interim superintendent since former superintendent Lou Byars retired on May 31 and is seeking the permanent position. Since then, RHS Principal Eric Holland — who was also a candidate for superintendent — accepted a position as the principal of Marietta High School.
Another parent Tuesday also called for change, referring back to her own days at Rome High School and the school resource officer there.
“We had Trixie. We were scared to walk the halls and do anything wrong. Where’s that fear in these kids?” Brittney Garrett asked the board. “How many of y’all are aware of the gang activity that’s going on right now at Rome High School? The drug sales? The drugs? How many of y’all are aware of that?
“I have a child that was scared for me to come in here and say anything because she didn’t want it to be pinpointed back at her, when she goes to school,” she said. “That’s ridiculous… That’s ridiculous, so what are we going to do?”
Fisher said Wednesday they take the comments of parents and their faculty very seriously.
“We’re all invested in Rome City Schools,” Fisher said. “We’re very much working on safety, we’re all in on that.”
Addressing claims of inaction, Fisher noted that they lost two months after board member John Uldrick resigned in February to take a job in the metro-Atlanta area. The board then had to begin the process of appointing a new member before finding a superintendent.
“We wanted a seventh (board member) to be a part of the search and lost February and March,” she said. “I completely understand the high school’s frustration that we’re understaffed.”
Toni Blanchard has been temporarily appointed to the school board as the seventh member. However, the seat is up for a vote in November. City voters will decide who will finish the remaining three years of the term. Qualifying is Aug. 15-19 at the clerk’s office at City Hall.
The board is currently setting a time to interview superintendent candidates.
There is a called board meeting for Saturday at 8 a.m., when they’ll enter a closed session to discuss the superintendent search. The meeting will be held at the Floyd Campus of Georgia Highlands College, 3175 Cedartown Highway, in the McCorkle Building.
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