Unthinkable tragedies across the nation have brought a heightened awareness to school safety.

Recognizing the pressing need to keep students safe when they are on campus, Lee County School District officials are wise to work proactively to better secure the district’s schools.

Officials have taken a number of actions in recent months, as reported by Daily Journal education reporter Cristina Carreon. That includes the hiring of a new safety coordinator, as well as eight new individuals to the district security team.

Four of those eight will be school resource officers, certified law enforcement officers employed by the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, although the school district will pay their salaries. Four will be school safety officers who are district employees.

The hirings play into a larger safety plan that district officials have been putting together in recent years. They will give the district an officer stationed at each of its schools. Previously, officers had been responsible for multiple campuses. Meanwhile, the safety coordinator will oversee broad security efforts, and district officials have partnered with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department for a tip line that provides an outlet to report suspicious behavior.

Last April, the district contracted with Les Nichols, president of R.L. Nichols & Associates, to examine its safety measures and recommend various improvements. Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district has implemented several of those recommendations, such as electronic door lock systems and upgraded camera systems.

Nichols said the various improvements – and particularly the additional officers – will make a difference.

“Criminals make a decision based on some rationale, no one just snaps, so they are going to choose a location where they will succeed,” Nichols said. “Having well-trained professionals not only serves as an immediate deterrent, it also boosts overall morale, sets a threshold of security as a serious business. They are there as a symbol.”

The school board will begin working on a timeline for further safety improvements, based on Nichols’ recommendations. Weeks said those measures are estimated to cost $1.4 million.

That is a hefty price tag, but it also is an important investment. As critical of a role as our schools play in educating and inspiring future generations, all of that work is moot if students are not kept safe.

The recent uptick in school shootings demands an appropriate response, and Lee County School District leaders are correctly recognizing that and actively working to make their schools safer. Tupelo School District officials have followed a similar path, announcing last month the district would hire three new school resource officers to protect its campuses, in addition to numerous other safety measures.

The presence of trained law enforcement not only serves as a deterrent but also can quickly diffuse a volatile situation should one erupt.

We appreciate the foresight of our school leaders, and also thank the officers who endeavor daily to keep our students safe.

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