Fayette schools, law enforcement tout closer cooperation

Fayette County School System Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat (L), District Attorney Scott Ballard and school system Attendance and Discipline Coordinator C.W. Campbell (R) listen during a June 11 presentation to teachers from surrounding counties on handling issues related to school violence. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It was a presentation designed to show school teachers how the combined efforts of a school system, law enforcement, the judicial system and the community can work together to tackle issues related to criminal violations at schools.

The June 11 presentation at the Wyndham Conference Center in Peachtree City led by Fayette County Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat, Attendance and Discipline Coordinator C.W. Campbell and District Attorney Scott Ballard was part of the three-day Summer Leadership Conference sponsored by the Griffin Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA).

“Uniting Law Enforcement and Educational Leaders to Positively Serve the Community” provided a venue for teachers and officials from around the eight-county Griffin RESA area to hear what Fayette County stakeholders have accomplished in recent years.

The tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999 changed the way communities look at school violence and the factors that lead to it, Campbell said.

“We need safe environments for kids to learn and for teachers to teach,” Campbell said. “Parents want to know what is being done about school safety.”

The Georgia General Assembly in recent years established a statue that required criminal offenses by students while at school or at school functions to be reported to law enforcement and the district attorney. That change prompted a visit to Ballard’s office by Sweat and Campbell.

“When the school system came to talk to me it was like a breath of fresh air,” Ballard said. “Today we have wonderful communication (between law enforcement, the schools, courts and community members) and I credit the quarterly meetings for much of that.”

And it was those meetings that were established and promoted by all law enforcement agencies in Fayette County, the school system and school resource officers, Ballard’s office, the juvenile court system, the Ga. Dept. of Family and Children Services and organizations such as the NAACP’s Dawn Oparah.

“People can now see a united front where we put the kids first,” Ballard said.

Fayette is the only Griffin RESA system to have implemented such a wide-ranging, community-based program. Sweat in describing the communication protocols the group established said they included exchanging email and cell phone numbers, increasing trust and transparency among members through active communication and focusing their efforts on proactive solutions to issues in the community.

But there is more to the story since a primary component in tackling school violence involves children and parents. That is where the community awareness meetings held at schools around the county come in, Campbell said.

“The attendance increased when we started getting students involved in the meetings. And if the kids are involved the parents will come,” said Campbell.

Also attending the meeting and offering advice to audience members were the program’s core partners such as Peachtree City Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark, Fayetteville Police Chief Steve Heaton, Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah and former Fayette County School Superintendent John DeCotis.

The Griffin RESA includes Fayette, Butts, Newton, Henry, Lamar, Spalding, Upson and Pike counties.