SPECIAL REPORT: Parents speak out on school safety, the real dangers

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It's a parent's worst nightmare to learn their child has been shot and killed at the hands of an active shooter at school.

These incidents are happening at an alarming rate in America averaging more than one school shooting a month so far this year with 23 school shootings.

According to the Washington Post, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence since the Columbine shooting nearly two decades ago.

In February, the Parkland, Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sparked a national debate about school safety that permeated into the Muscogee County School District a month later.  Scott Thomann, the security director for  MCSD, presented four options to the school board:

Plan A—current staffing, with 17 part-time officers, $2.1 million

Plan B—22 part-time officers, $2.4 million

Plan C—10 full-time officers, seven part-time officers, plus three additional positions, $2.9 million

Plan D—21 full-time officers, one part-time officer, five additional positions including supervisors and an investigator, $3.9 million

We invited some parents and students into our WTVM/WXTX studios for a roundtable discussion to get their opinions on the plan. Out of the six parents in attendance, all of them said they liked the plan except for one parent.

"It's a good start," explained Raymond Lynch, a healthcare professional.

"But that means you're trusting that they are going to expand it so that's not really fair to say," added Marianne Young, a special education advocate.

"Well, I agree with what she's saying too. We don't want to give six votes of approval and they go oh guys where done, we don't need to make any further changes," added Kevin Webb, a marketing manager.

After initially recommending Plan C, in May, the board approved Plan D creating its own new campus police agency and hiring 21 full-time officers.

The district consists of 57 schools and with less than two dozen officers to service the schools, 36 schools will likely be without permanent police protection on any given day.

Thomann said it's all delegating resources. "Of course, those resources move on a daily basis. If we have reason to believe school A is more at risk today than school B was yesterday, then those assets would be moved," commented Thomann.

While a majority of the parents support the plan, they expressed a strong need for each school having a permanent officer.

Marissa Wheeler, a bank service specialist said: "It needs to be all the way around because of the things that have happened in the past at middle and elementary schools."

There's also a big concern among parents about the aspect of police policing students in school. 

"We've seen themed school districts create their own limited jurisdiction police force, especially here in Georgia and they are twice as likely to have excessive force complaints against them. Special needs students and students of color are more likely to become arrested," explained Young.

Thomann said the officers will be trained on how to deal with all types students on a daily basis to help foster positive student-officer relationships.

Most parents are also willing to help foot the bill for added protection for the children while on school grounds.

"Show me a hand of parents that aren't willing to pay a little bit more to safeguard their children. Feel free to call me, added Tom Mullen, a retired Army flight medic.

"I was so happy to hear the proposal did not call for arming teachers in the classroom. I was totally against that because teachers already have too much on their plate. They didn't sign up to be law enforcement officers. They signed up to be teachers, that's what they have their degree in, to be teachers," added Lynch.

Jesse Lockhart, whose daughter was almost a victim of school violence, shared how this topic hits close to home for him and his daughter. "This year, a young man brought a weapon to school and thank God, the kids had the courage to tell and the situation folded," Lockhart mentioned.

That's why Lockhart says he feels that the MCSD plan should go beyond scratching the surface and address some frontline issues.

"Number one, when we took prayer out of schools and getting involved with parents and students to help them make better choices, stated Lockhart.

Webb wants to see tighter measures to enter a school building."I think there should be some kind of funneled access control to get in my child's school. I sign a paper and that's pretty much it. I think that we have a mental health crisis in the United States."

And there's the notion that metal detectors positioned at school entrances could serve as a deterrent.

"We are still exploring the technology. Metal detector technology is still being developed and there are two different technologies we're looking at right now."

Whether it's metal detectors, putting police in schools or arming teachers, as the debate rages on across the nation, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't agree that something needs to be done to protect students like Brittney, Ryah and their peers across the country.

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