December 18, 2012 10:32:12 AM
JACKSON -- School officials across Mississippi say they're on high alert and evaluating security policies in the wake of a deadly shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
In the central Mississippi city of Pearl, where a student went on a deadly shooting rampage in 1997, authorities say there will be an increase in police presence. Similar measures were being taken across the United States after a man killed 26 people, mostly young children, on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"We feel that our past experiences have made us keenly aware of the measures that should be taken," Pearl School District Superintendent Raymond Morgigno said Monday in an email.
Luke Woodham, now serving three life sentences, killed two students and injured seven others at Pearl High School on Oct. 1, 1997. He had stabbed his mother to death that morning.
Woodham's rampage was stopped by an assistant principal who retrieved a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his truck, forced Woodham to the ground and held him at gunpoint until police arrived.
Morgigno said the Pearl district has a detailed security plan that's evaluated annually, but since the shooting in Connecticut, officials "have been in contact with local law enforcement agencies and first responders to review this plan and to take additional steps."
"There will be an increased police presence at each campus and in the surrounding areas," Morgigno said.
He said security measures already in place include drills for crisis situations, "including the presence of an intruder on campus," and that there are specially trained police officers, known as school resource officers, assigned to campuses across the district.
The schools also have secure reception areas, and Morgigno said counselors are available.
"Even though 1997 is forever a part of our district and community's history, the majority of the students in our classrooms today have very little direct link to or even knowledge of those events," he said. "To place any emphasis on this part of our past would be inappropriate and not in our students' best interest. Therefore, we choose to be vigilant in attending to the needs of the individual students."
In the state capital, Jackson Public School District spokesman Sherwin Johnson said school officials are observing students and watching for signs of anxiety that may need to be addressed.
He said the district has a crisis-response plan that was implemented at the beginning of the school year "and the level of security remains heightened at all schools."
In south Mississippi, Harrison County Superintendent Henry Arledge said he hopes to get more school resource officers. The district has 15 officers and 21 schools.
He also said the district has detailed security policies and procedures that will be studied to see how they can be improved.
He said school officials will be available to talk to any student with concerns in the wake of the Connecticut shooting.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with that school district," Arledge said. "It could have been anywhere."
Milton Kuykendall, the superintendent of the Desoto County School District, said he called for an evaluation of his schools' security policies and procedures immediately after the shootings in Connecticut.
Kuykendall said the district evaluates the schools' security every year but that he decided to start that process now rather than later.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep our students safe," he said.