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Posted: December 20, 2012 8:30 p.m.

Is more security tech needed in schools?

Several classrooms in Newton County are participating in a pilot program for student and teacher safety, and with the recent school shootings in Newtown, the local system is getting a lot of attention for the program.

The School Alert For Education program is in 20 classrooms at Newton High School, two in Veterans Memorial Middle School and one in the Newton College and Career Academy. Used both as a tool for teachers and a deterrent for students, SAFE places two cameras in every classroom and provides teachers with a tear-drop microphone around their necks that has a silent alarm button that will alert the front office in case of an emergency.

The program was featured in a school safety story on CNN Thursday night and was included in a discussion on National Public Radio.

When a teacher hits the emergency button on his remote, it sends a silent signal to nine people inside the building, including the student resource officer, front desk personnel and administrators. These nine people will also receive an email with a photo and a link. The link directs them to a site where they can watch a live streaming video of the classroom. An activated alert from any teacher will also automatically turn on all the cameras in the other classrooms.

NHS principal Craig Lockhart said that having the SAFE program in the 20 classrooms has cut down on student behavioral issues.

"Frankly, the issue of school security has so concerned those of us in administration that this pilot has been in place for months now in NCSS prior to the Connecticut tragedy," said Superintendent Gary Mathews.

The cost of the system is roughly $4,400 per classroom and, according to Mathews, it is expected to be installed in every classroom when the new Newton High School opens in August 2013. To install it in every middle and high school classroom would cost the NCSS approximately $3 million, Mathews said in an email Wednesday.

"Naturally, this kind of funding is not available within the general fund," said Mathews. "It would have to come out of the upcoming SPLOST election to be held in March of 2013. At this time, the Board of Education certainly has this as an option before it when it comes to the use of SPLOST IV funds should the election turn out favorably. Obviously, given the Connecticut shootings involving small children and staff, it is certainly more than plausible to install the camera/silent alarm system in each of our school system's elementary classrooms, the theme school and the Newton College and Career Academy. To do so would increase the cost, but a successful SPLOST IV would so provide the funds should the Board of Education be so inclined."

Although no other board members have spoken yet about the possibility, District 4 representative Almond Turner said in a previous story that he believed the NCSS would have cameras in all classrooms.

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