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Bibb schools, community look to focus on school safety

Bibb schools, community look to focus on school safety
Published: May 21, 2012 
School leaders, community organizations to sign juvenile agreement Friday

Bibb County teachers, administrators and community members met Monday morning for the first session of the system’s discipline task force to tackle safety and discipline issues in the schools. Participants discussed issues such as the system’s student code of conduct, parental involvement, evidentiary hearings and student suspensions in a nearly three-hour session at the system’s Welcome Center annex.
Meanwhile, the school system is gearing up to sign a memorandum of understanding with local organizations Friday. The agreement, about a year in the making, is meant to keep juveniles who commit non-felony offenses out of the justice system and provide support to them in other ways. Monday’s session of about 40 participants is part of a larger effort to address school safety, along with efforts to open alternative schools at Barden Elementary, Bloomfield Middle and Northeast high schools in the fall and school safety evaluations by the company Safe Havens International, said Deputy Superintendent Ed Judie.
“The superintendent and cabinet realize the number of concerns over discipline and safety,” Judie said.
The session, which also included smaller group discussions, aimed to encourage staff and community members not only about current practices but also about ways to improve policies as well, Judie said.
“We can’t do it in isolation,” he said. The session is the first over the next few months. In addition to meetings already scheduled for June 4 and 11 and July 9 and 16, the system is looking at additional dates to maximize community and parental involvement, Judie said. The smaller group discussions included input mostly from staff members such as Sally Moody, an eighth-grade math teacher at Miller Middle School, who was “excited” about being part of the discipline task force. While she sets high expectations for the students in her own classroom, she wants to make sure discipline and structure for students is uniform. “We’re trying to speak the same language and build consistency,” Moody said. Erica Eaton, the parent of a Bibb County kindergartener, said she is concerned about bullying. “There has to be more accountability,” she said. Eaton and Marie Harris, a regular at school board meetings, also agreed parents need to be more engaged in issues of student safety. Harris suggested the system hold sessions on the system’s student code of conduct with parents. “We have to educate parents,” she said. Hosting discussions on the issues is one part of a multi-pronged approach to improving school safety, Judie said.
The system is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding Friday with several local organizations: Bibb County Juvenile Court, Bibb County District Attorney’s Office, the Macon Police Department, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, the Bibb County Department of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, the Family Counseling Center of Central Georgia and River Edge Behavioral Health Center. The signing is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. at the Bibb County Board of Education’s central office at 484 Mulberry St., said Veronica McClendon, an attorney with the Georgia Legal Services Program. The organization has helped put the agreement together among the agencies. Students who commit non-felony offenses on school grounds may receive intervention from a multi-agency team within 10 days of receiving a referral, among other steps outlined in the not-yet-signed agreement. Finding alternative ways to reach out to students, rather than sending them straight to Juvenile Court, may make it less likely that students end up in the justice system later in life, McClendon said. “It’s just a common sense approach with how to deal with behavior,” she said.
In recent years, an average of about 600 students a year have been sent to Bibb County Juvenile Court, according to the Georgia Legal Services Program. The program was modeled after one started in Clayton County in 2004, said Bibb County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Matthews. Matthews said there has been a shift in the last 15 years or so. Back then, only the most serious crimes were sent to Juvenile Court, but now issues such as minor fights are being sent through the system. “It’ll distinguish between offenses more effectively handled by school, with more serious things handled in Juvenile Court,” he said. To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.