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Keeping students safe

Rowland, Cropper talk MHS security

On Wednesday, February 14, a tragic shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida left 17 dead. Since that time, the Webster Parish school system and local law enforcement have worked to ensure area schools are as safe as possible.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper updated the council on security at Minden High School. The same night, Webster Parish School Superintendent Johnny Rowland made school safety the sole topic of his report at the monthly school board meeting.

“I know I speak for everyone at the school system when I say everything else was set aside to meet about school safety when we heard about the horrific tragedy in Parkland, Florida,” Rowland said.

A week after the Florida shooting, Minden police evaluated the MHS campus from a security perspective as school let in. Later that day, a group of law enforcement and school system officials met to discuss school security, a meeting that both Rowland and Cropper described at Monday’s meetings.

“[Minden police] observed and made suggestions,” Rowland said. “That afternoon, Mr. [Kevin] Washington, myself, Mrs. [Ursula] Hullaby, and Mr. [Buster] Flowers, we met with local law enforcement, particularly the [Webster Parish] Sheriff, some of his deputies, the Minden Police Chief and some of his officers. I think Sibley PD was there as well. Since then, we’ve also talked to the Springhill chief.”

Rowland said the primary topic of discussion was what Minden police saw in their observation of MHS.

“It’s our largest campus and probably our most open campus,” he said. “It’s accessible from all directions – many different entrances, exits, outlets. In many ways, it’s tough logistically.”

In addition to his address to the City Council, Cropper previously spoke with the Press-Herald on the same topic. In both instances, he was more direct in his assessment of the MHS facilities.

“Minden High is a security nightmare,” he said. “The way it was built was not with security in mind.”
Despite inherent challenges, Cropper said MHS security can be handled better.

“You have to narrow it down to one entrance and one exit and have that entrance controlled,” he said. “Minden High is going to work on it. They have so many doors that are unlocked that shouldn’t be unlocked. And I know it’s for convenience, but the teachers are going to have to understand that a little bit of inconvenience might save someone’s life one day.”

Cropper told the City Council that while there has been “nothing major” concerning security threats at MHS, there have been “some instances.”

“We had a couple of kids to go high school with a cell phone case that looks just like a gun,” he said. “It’s crazy.

Why they would do that, I don’t know. I think they found two of them, and those two students have been suspended.”

Both Rowland and Cropper said school officials and law enforcement will meet again soon to discuss necessary changes to security measures.

“We’ve requested that all of our principals tell us what they need, within reason,” Rowland said. “And look, everything is within reason when it comes to student safety. I just mean things that we can do without having to go to another source to find a way to do it.”

Last week Rowland and Kevin Washington, Supervisor of Student Services, contacted the Caddo Parish superintendent and requested that Caddo Parish Public Schools Safety Director Roy Murray come in to deliver an outside opinion on security.

“He was all in,” Rowland said. “So today [Monday] Roy Murray came over and went to Minden High School. He walked around, saw the school take in, and saw the layout. He made many recommendations to all of us as to things we can do to improve security over there. He also went to Doyline High School because that too is an open and accessible campus.”

Rowland said these evaluations must extend to every school in the parish.

“Our intention is to get [Murray] back, and if we can’t get Mr. Murray to all of our campuses, we are going to get law enforcement to all of our schools. Because every campus is different.”

Cropper said he is confident Webster Parish school security will improve in the near future.

“I think the superintendent and the school board members are dealing with this, and we are going to try to make some changes, not only at Minden High School, but all the schools in Webster Parish, to keep our kids safe,” he said.