School invites community input at meeting


Troy Kleber

Four APS representatives were in the spotlight this evening at Grady’s auditorium. The audience consisted of students, parents, faculty and other community members.

Parents, teachers, students and other community members gathered in Grady’s auditorium Thursday evening for a town hall meeting held by school and district officials. On stage, Principal Vincent Murray, APS security chief Marquenta Sands, regional K-12 executive director David White and student body president Lauren Alford discussed with the audience the details of the incident on Feb. 27, where a student brought a gun on campus, and invited input and questions.

The meeting began with an explanation by associate superintendent Steve Smith of “the reason why we are here tonight—to be more responsive and more engaged with you as parents, as students, as the entire community who support Grady High School.”

Murray then acknowledged the challenge Grady faced in responding to the incident. He said the incident rattled the faculty, and the school is deeply saddened by the unfortunate injury. He did, however, commend the faculty for acting efficiently to keep the situation under control that morning.

“This has been a challenging time for Grady and the school system,” Murray said. “This is not the type of atmosphere we ever want to have for our campus. Parents we assure you that the safety and security of our students are always our top priorities at Grady. I would like to take the opportunity to remind all of you that we have a plan in place to handle emergency situations. We work with our district and local authorities for any emergency situation. While no amount of planning can guarantee that incidents such as this will not occur, we’re doing everything we know to keep students and staff safe while at this school.”

APS director of security Marquenta Sands and regional K-12 executive director David White explain to the audience the events of yesterday and what APS will do in the future.

Sands, the security chief, clarified to the crowd once again what exactly happened. After the incident, Sands said the injured student was apprehended and taken to the hospital first and then to the jail, where she was booked on four charges. The student remains incarcerated at this time, she said.

White, who works in partnership with Murray, identified the importance of analyzing the incident and the school’s response to the incident in order to determine how the system can improve in the future.

“We want to be sure that we acknowledge that we’re not here to sweep anything under the rug or hide anything or be covert about anything,” he said. “It’s been a very passionate and stressful time, and it’s caused us to reflect, to identify some things that went really well, that we’re really proud of and to also identify some gaps that we need to close.”

Several parents wait in line to ask questions to the APS representatives.

After each APS representative spoke, the remainder of the meeting consisted of parents’ comments and questions to the panel. Multiple parents expressed their worry that metal detectors located at the entrances to the cafeteria are not effective deterrents to bringing weapons on campus since students can bypass these measures if they enter school through another door or arrive late to school.

The panel responded to these comments by admitting these were “gaps” in the school’s security measures that will be addressed. White said parents should contact him if students continue to describe the school’s procedures as being ineffective.

A Grady student described the long lines leading into the school in the mornings caused by more thorough security. She was worried about the decrease in learning time since students are now arriving at their first-period classes later than before. Sands admitted that education should not be compromised as a result of increased security.

“We don’t want to punish you for trying to do what we are asking you to do,” Sands said.

The comments, however, were not entirely critical of the school system. Several parents appreciated the school’s reaction to incident and its communication through email and phone messages of what exactly was taking place on campus.

Parents had differing opinions on the extent to which security should increase following this incident.

Some were of the opinion that there are insufficient safety resources at Grady and believe the teachers, who now man the metal detectors, should not be in a position meant for security guards.

Grady parent Candice Smith expressed to the panel her appreciation of how the school responded. She also said to the audience that she believes the issue of violence at schools stems from the students and parents themselves.

Grady parent Candice Smith, however, does not fault the school for the fact that a student had a gun on campus. Smith worked for the Transportation Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security, and she is familiar with the effectiveness of security measures.

“There’s no way for you to 100 percent prevent guns from coming into a certain area,” she said. “You can beef up security; you can improve your metal detectors. That’s not going to 100 percent prevent something from happening inside of a school.”

Instead, Smith said the issue of bringing weapons to school stems from the students themselves, and parents should urge their kids to solve problems through communication not violence.

“Talk to your kids, seriously,” Smith said to the parents in the audience.

Sands said the school system, as well, needs to do a better job in educating the students, so they understand the integral role they play in the school’s safety procedures. She said the school system and Atlanta Police Department have already set up a hotline for students to send anonymous tips regarding suspicious activity.

“[The students] are the key ingredient that will make the pie rise,” Sands said.

Photos were taken by J.D. Capelouto, Orli Hendler, Quinn Mulholland and Axel Olson. All quotes were transcribed by Quinn Mulholland.