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School Board names new safety director

The Madison City School Board took steps to enhance security in the city’s schools by approving a new safety director during its meeting Monday, July 26.

The school board named Columbia Elementary School Principal Dennis James as the new student support/safety/security and communication coordinator.

James was selected from a pool of 66 applicants that included former teachers, administrators and law enforcement officials.

The decision comes just five months after freshman Hammad Memon, 14, shot and killed classmate Todd Brown in the halls of Discovery Middle Feb. 5.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler asked the crowd at the meeting not to applaud when the decision was announced because of the “graveness of the situation.”

“It’s not a time to celebrate,” James said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Terry Odum, a member of the school security task force, worked closely with Fowler and others to find the most qualified candidate.

“Terry was the glue that held this entire process together,” Fowler said.

Fowler said James would continue to serve in a dual role as both the new safety director at Columbia principal until a replacement can be found for him at the elementary school.

“I don’t think there has been a more grave, sobering recommendation to this board,” Fowler said. “It comes after many hours of prayer and long consideration. I don’t think there is any position more important to this school district at this time.”

The board also moved forward on several other safety measures, including a revision to the student code of conduct harassment section.

Policy committee member John Jones presented the revised code, which included “bullying” and “cyberbullying” in the harassment section. Both are now listed and will be enforced in the upcoming school year.

The board also voted 4-1 to enter into a contract with Spatial Net Inc. for new GPS software on buses that will allow parents to track where their child’s bus is at any time, what speed the bus is going and whether their child has entered or exited the bus through fingerprint scanning.

The system is being used on a trial basis this year at Columbia Elementary.

“This is new territory for us,” Fowler said.

Board member Sue Helms voted against the measure, and several members had questions about the security and viability of the new software.

“It’s a tough call,” said member Phil Schmidt. “It’s a fine line with what is very valuable to one parent might be scary to another.”

After the first semester at Columbia, the program will be offered to parents who wish to purchase a subscription to the software for approximately $15-18 per month.

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