Safety concerns key priority as Georgia schools open for fall 

ATLANTA – With the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas as a backdrop, Georgia schools are beginning to open their doors for fall with school safety top-of-mind for parents and teachers.

Every public school in Georgia is required to have a school safety plan and conduct drills on that plan, the state Department of Education (DOE) said in July.

Safety plans address school violence prevention training, mental health awareness, school security measures, and partnerships with public safety officials.

In July, the DOE and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) announced a new school safety clearinghouse website that will distribute school safety resources and updated training to Georgia schools and community partners.  

The shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has caused law enforcement agencies to work more closely with schools to plan for emergency responses, said Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish.  

“Our school resource officers have been working all summer to better understand [schools’] safety plans for various situations,” Parrish said. “When we understand the behaviors of school staff and students in response to different emergencies, we have a better idea of what kind of scene we are responding to.”

School officials usually do not share all the details of the safety plans, and the plans are not subject to open records requests, said Angela Palm, director of policy for the Georgia School Boards Association

Palm said school boards have to balance the need to keep the plans private with the need to inform the community about their plans.  

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest district in the state, has its own licensed and accredited police department, with 98 school resource officers, said Bernard Watson, the district’s director of community and media relations.  

Gwinnett is retrofitting 19 schools with security vestibules – a feature 15 already have – to help administrators control access to the building, Watson said. The county has other measures for collecting tips about troubling behavior in schools, he added.

Another large metro-Atlanta county – Clayton — will require all students to carry clear backpacks this school year. The school district will provide backpacks to the students.  

But these measures don’t necessarily address the concerns of students.  

“Safety in our schools has been a concern since I was in kindergarten,” said Lily Littrell, who recently graduated from Parkview High School in Gwinnett County and is a member of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, an advocacy group made up of high school and college students. 

“Adding police and other school-hardening policies will not make our schools safer or fix the systemic problem,” Littrell said. “[Schools should] invest in counselors, social workers, and restorative justice that will actually make our schools safer and reduce violence.”

In stark contrast, others argue for arming teachers or other school staffers.  

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 allowing school boards to authorize certain staffers to carry guns on school campuses.  

In July, the Cobb County Board of Education voted to allow certain school staff members to carry guns on campus.  

The policy prohibits teachers from carrying guns but authorizes the superintendent to choose other personnel who can carry guns at school or school events after approved training.   

“I think it’s a great policy,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Second Amendment (GA2A), a gun-rights group.

“Schools are a soft target. … [But] once people understand that there’s someone there armed, no one’s going to go in there [and shoot]. … Had one of those teachers [in Uvalde] been armed, then they could have stepped in.”

But some teachers think such proposals go too far.  

“No educator should be armed,” said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.  

“The problem of gun violence is much larger than our schools. You can’t solve the issue of someone coming into a school armed with a weapon … until you solve the issue of gun violence that we have throughout our society.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia teachers to receive ‘back-to-school’ supplements for supplies

ATLANTA – Georgia teachers stocking up on supplies for the new school year will get some help from the state.  

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday that every full-time public school teacher in Georgia will receive a $125 supplement to help them get their students back to in-person learning coming out of the pandemic.

The money will be provided through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Program, a federal pandemic-relief fund established by Congress in 2020.

“Through wise investments and policies that empower families while supporting teachers, students and faculty will return to the classroom stronger and safer than ever for the first full school year not impacted by distanced or remote learning,” Kemp said Friday during a back-to-school event at Ola High School in McDonough.

“We hope this $125 ‘Back-to-School Supply Supplement’ will aid in these efforts and help us close the learning loss gap caused by the pandemic.”

The supplement also will go to school staff members who work to provide instructional and supportive services directly to students.

The money can be used to buy materials, supplies, or other items that can be used to supplement classroom materials, address learning loss or mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Poll finds Kemp, Abrams statistically tied

Gov. Brian Kemp
Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams

ATLANTA – Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams are in a virtual dead heat, according to a new poll.

The survey of 950 Georgia adults, including 753 registered voters, found Kemp holding a 1-point lead over Abrams, 45% to 44%, statistically considered a tie.

The poll, conducted July 21 through July 24 by SurveyUSA, showed Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock ahead of Republican challenger Herschel Walker by 9 points, 48% to 39%.

The poll found Kemp leading Abrams by 10 points among men, while Abrams was ahead by 7 points among women.

Kemp was up by 11 points among voters aged 50 or older, while Abrams held the advantage among voters below age 50 by 8 points.

The survey showed a strong racial divide, with Kemp up by 46 points among white voters and Abrams 76 points ahead among Black voters.

In the Senate race, the poll found Warnock leading Walker by 17 points among women and by a nominal 2 points among men.

Like Abrams, Warnock was ahead among voters under age 50 by 22 points. The Democrat only held a slight 2-point lead among older voters.

Black voters supported Warnock in the polls by a huge 80-point margin, while white voters backed Walker by 28 points.  

Warnock is up by 39 points in urban parts of Georgia and by 19 points in the suburbs, while Walker leads by 28 points in rural communities, according to the survey.

The poll also demonstrated the same ticket-splitting trend that has shown up in other surveys. Of voters who plan to vote for Kemp, only 78% said they would vote for Walker.

Ticket splitting was less of a factor on the Democratic side. Of those who said they would vote for Abrams in the gubernatorial race, 93% indicated they also would support Warnock.

Further down the statewide ballot, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was 7 points ahead of state Rep. Bee Nguyen, his Democratic challenger, according to the poll. Twenty percent of voters surveyed said they were undecided.

Republican Attorney General Chris Carr was up by a smaller margin – 4 points – over Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan. In that contest, 24% of voters said they were undecided.

The pool of adult respondents to the survey was weighted to U.S. Census targets for gender, age, race, education, and home ownership.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Walker wins national law-enforcement group’s endorsement

Herschel Walker

ALPHARETTA – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker landed an endorsement from a national law-enforcement organization Friday, even as Democrats continued to hammer away at false claims that he worked in law enforcement.

The National Border Patrol Council endorsed Walker, citing his support for tougher enforcement at the nation’s southern border to choke off illegal drug smuggling.

“We have a very, very serious crisis on our southwestern border,” council President Brandon Judd said during a news conference outside Alpharetta City Hall. “The drug epidemic … is killing too many of our children.”

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented a district in Atlanta’s northern suburbs for 20 years, characterized Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock as soft on crime.

“Senator Warnock favors policies that put criminals back on the streets,” Gingrich said.

Former Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, a friend of Walker’s for almost 30 years, said Walker served the Cobb sheriff’s department as an honorary deputy and often spent time at the jail talking to prisoners.

“He made a lot of difference with a lot of inmates at that facility,” Warren said. “Herschel Walker is probably one of the best ambassadors for law enforcement in this country. … We need him in the Senate.”

“We’ve got to get behind the men and women in blue, let them know we have got their backs and are going to fund them,” Walker said when his turn came at the podium.

Walker said Warren’s testimony should answer Democrats’ criticism that he has been making false claims about his law enforcement experience.

But the Democratic Party of Georgia cited instances of Walker’s false claims that go well beyond his work in Cobb County, including that he was an FBI agent and spent time at the agency’s training school in Quantico, Va.

Warnock’s campaign shot back at Republican criticism of his law enforcement record, pointing to his support for $3.9 billion in grants for state and local law enforcement this year, including $250 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring program.

The senator also backs the bipartisan Invest to Protect Act, which would invest in training, equipment, mental health support, and officer recruitment and retention to support small law enforcement agencies.

Walker continued Friday to express his willingness to debate Warnock. However, the two have yet to agree on a time and place.

“I’m ready to debate,” Walker said. “[But] it has to be a fair and equitable debate.”

The former University of Georgia football great easily captured the Republican nomination to challenge Warnock, winning the Republican primary in May over five other candidates.

Warnock, who won the Senate seat in January of last year in a runoff over incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is seeking a full six-year term in November.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Lottery funding for education hits $25 billion

ATLANTA – The Georgia Lottery Corp. hit a historic milestone this month, as the program’s total funding of education since its inception in 1993 reached $25 billion.

There’s a lot of zeroes in there,” Gov. Brian Kemp quipped Thursday as Gretchen Corbin, the lottery organization’s president and CEO, presented him with a giant check.

Georgia voters approved creation of the lottery in 1992, drawn to support the referendum by the promise of an influx of funds to the new HOPE Scholarships program and Georgia pre-k.

Since then, more than 2 million college students have received HOPE scholarships or grants, while lottery revenue has supported more than 1.7 million pre-kindergartners, Corbin said.

Kemp said some Georgia students have benefited from both programs, both at the beginning and end of their academic careers.

“The impact of lottery-funded HOPE scholarships and pre-k goes far beyond the classroom,” the governor said Thursday. “It makes our workforce stronger and the state more sought after by job creators. … Georgians win every day with the lottery.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.