Ascension adding deputies to schools

GONZALES — Ascension Parish School Superintendent Patrice Pujol and Sheriff Jeff Wiley announced plans on Monday to revamp security in the parish’s public school system in the wake of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

The district will launch a “three-pronged” program that includes increasing the police presence on school campuses, reviewing security measures at schools, and training students and staff on emergency plans, Pujol said during a news conference.

Beginning April 1, Wiley said, 16 deputies will start a new school security officer program aimed at increasing police presence at the district’s four high schools — Donaldsonville, Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Amant.

Those deputies will shadow the existing school resource officers for the remainder of the school year and then will begin operations on the new program in the fall, Wiley said.

The new school security officers will be “better trained and better equipped” in both firearms and active-shooter intervention techniques, he said.

The officers will work in rotating teams of four, with one team at each high school on two-week shifts throughout the school year.

In addition, when the deputies aren’t stationed in the schools, they will patrol campuses throughout the day to provide a “visible, loud, obvious presence of police, of security,” the sheriff said.

Wiley said his office also is partnering with the Gonzales and Sorrento police departments on increased security measures.

“It’s about getting together, getting the job done and keeping our kids safe,” Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson said.

Wiley said security isn’t needed just at the district’s high schools, noting that the Sandy Hook shooting showed chaos can happen even at elementary campuses.

Beginning in the fall, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ascension Parish School Board will partner to hire four new deputies who will be dedicated to traveling around the parish and providing extra security at schools.

The Sheriff’s Office will pay for two of the deputies, while the School Board will pay for the other two.

Wiley said officials felt that having just the four deputies at the high schools wasn’t enough protection.

“Not one community is left out,” Wiley said. “Not one campus is left out. Not one child is left out.”

Wiley said his office responded to the Sandy Hook shooting by sending deputies to campuses throughout the district. Uniformed deputies were on campuses about an hour after news of the shooting broke and remained on campus through the end of the month “to assist the school system” with security.

The sheriff said the consensus in discussions with school officials after the shooting was that more security was needed.

“We’re not doing our job if we’re not examining and re-examining how we do things,” Wiley said.

The school district also will start a campaign on campuses encouraging students to “step up and stop it” when they hear of potentially dangerous situations.

“Often we find in these types of situations, somebody knew something ahead of time,” Pujol said.

“Almost all of the horrific school shootings that happened in this country that were perpetuated by students, they told someone,” Wiley said.

Pujol said the school district also is reviewing its video surveillance program and is working with a consultant on possibly revamping its emergency preparedness plans.

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