Bibb schools safety forum fails to attract crowd

pramati@macon.comMay 17, 2012 

At a Thursday evening gathering designed to allow the public to discuss Bibb County school safety issues with school officials, attendance was poor, largely because it was scheduled at the same time as a school board meeting across the street.

Just one parent showed up to talk with a team from Safe Haven International, a company hired to help the school system address safety issues.

That parent, Julie Cole, initially was reluctant to talk because she was concerned her comments might lead to a backlash against school officials at Central High School, where her daughter is a freshman.

But Cole eventually spoke, citing a lack of discipline among students as her chief safety issue with the school system.

“I’m wary because I don’t want what I say to be used against the principal and the staff,” she said. “I don’t think the (school system’s) central office is allowing for enough discipline. I’m definitely concerned. ... Day to day, there’s disorder and disrespect to those in authority.”

Cole said her daughter has told her of incidents in which a student has been sent away from a class after causing a disruption, only to be returned to that same class several minutes later.

“I’d like for (the school system) to reassure parents that there will be day-to-day discipline to occur,” she said. “It’s sad. There are some good teachers there. The principal and assistant principal are wonderful. But (nobody) is going to say anything.”

David Gowan, the school system’s director of risk management, said the forum was held at the same time as the board meeting because it was one of two days in which Sony Shepherd, Safe Haven International chief operating officer, was available to meet with Bibb County parents.

Gowan said the second public forum will be held Friday at 6 p.m. at Sonny Carter Elementary School.

Shepherd said she and her staff are in the process of accumulating as much data and feedback as they can, including on-site visits to nine Bibb middle and high schools as well as training of school system personnel. Once the information is collected, Safe Haven will make a recommendation to Superintendent Romain Dallemand, who included school safety as part of his Macon Miracle strategic plan.

“It’s kind of early,” Shepherd said. “We’re not done with (getting the data). There’s a number of people who are saying there are issues and they want to fix them -- staff, parents, students. They want something done. These forums are to address that.”

Safe Haven has collected about 1,000 questionnaires from students about school safety. They also are providing questionnaires to parents and may put a questionnaire online if there isn’t enough attendance at the forums.

Ralph Brown, a teacher at Central, also attended the meeting. He said there are a lot of negative perceptions of the school system because of media reports.

“When you turn on the TV, you get (bad) news,” he said. “I feel more nervous when I go out to get gas. I tell the students I’m there to provide them with a safe environment. ... Can we do more? Yeah, but we’re doing what we can. We can always be more cognizant of school safety. We have to change perceptions.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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