Last Wednesday, Congressman Mark Meadows toured East Franklin Elementary school to discuss Macon County schools' security needs.
Meadows' visit stems from a bill he introduced into Congress on Feb. 15, which calls for $30 million to reinstate the “Cops in Schools” program that was started 15 years ago. Meadows, has garnered national attention for his stance on strengthening school security throughout the nation.
Holland, along with Sheriffs from across Western North Carolina have been vocal of their support of hiring school resource officers to increase the state of security for publicly funded facilities. “Even before Congressman Meadows was elected to office, I met with him to tell him my concern regarding school security. He listened and even then began looking at ways to help local districts,” said Holland. “After taking office, and after the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., the national attention school safety got really got things moving on findings ways to protect our children.”
“The genesis of this legislation started in the district after speaking with local law enforcement officials and discussing the needs of the communities they are sworn to protect,” said Meadows. “The Protect America’s Schools Act is a bipartisan, solutions-oriented approach to addressing school shootings that should transcend party lines. I am proud of this legislation and encouraged by the outpouring of support we have received from local law enforcement, educators and parents.”
The bill, known as the Protect America’s Schools Act would put more school resource officers in schools through a program that has not been funded since 2005. The Cops in Schools program, originally instated by President Bill Clinton and funded with a $753 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, was cut in 2005 after putting more than 6,500 officers in schools. Meadows has worked with his colleagues in Congress and has identified nearly $134 million in “unobligated” funds in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget. He proposes using $30 million of those funds to reinstate the program and immediately begin filling what he views as being a void in the nation's school systems.
According to Holland, Macon County's school resource officer program was first initiated after securing grant money from the Cops in Schools Program. Two officers were funded through the grant. Even after the money ran out, Sheriff Holland made it a priority to ensure the safety of children in the district and worked it in his budget to not only retain the two positions, but to create two additional school resource officer positions. Currently, the four resource officers working in Macon County are all employees of the Sheriff's Department and are paid for out of the Sheriff's Department budget.
Since Meadows first introduced the legislation, the bill has garnered support from 10 of Meadows' colleagues including Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), Rich Nugent (R-FL), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Jeff Duncan (R-FL). Although the bill has yet to get bipartisan support, Meadows is confident that his Democratic colleagues will get on board to support the legislation.
While in Franklin last week, Meadows met with East Franklin Principal Shirley Parks along with Sheriff Robbie Holland and head of Macon County's school improvement team, Terry Bell. Meadows, who was joined by his wife, Debbie, listened to Bell and Parks about additional security needs within the system.
Bell informed Meadows of the county's effort to work with Holland and the school board to identify additional security needs to improve the school system. Bell told Meadows that local officials have been working together to ensure that all schools in Macon County have secured entrances as well as looking into additional safety measures such as cameras and key-card entries into school facilities.
Sheriff Holland, who has given presentations to both the board of education and the county commissioners regarding his support of increasing the number of school resource officers in the district, explained to Meadows programs the Sheriff Department has been doing to increase safety. “We have gotten our officers to visit all the schools in the district in plain clothes and in their personal vehicles and enter the schools,” explained Sheriff Holland. “After entering different school campuses, my officers would make their way through the school without notifying any school personnel. We wanted to do this to see what measures the schools were taking to boost security. On every occasion, my officers were stopped by school personnel and asked to return to the lobby to get proper clearance to be on campus.”
Parks told Meadows that all employees at East Franklin are required to wear badges to identify themselves and visitors are required to check in at the office and are then given a visitor pass to access the school.
Holland, along with law enforcement officers throughout Western North Carolina support Meadows' proposed legislation. "While many people in elected positions are talking about gun control and giving their opinions as to what the solution would be concerning the safety of our youngest citizens, others are actually taking action," said Holland. "I commend Congressman Meadows for actually taking the steps to address the concerns of many in our community. Finding the funds already allocated in the current budget that are not being used is a fiscally responsible thing to do as well. To anyone that would criticize him I would ask ... ‘what are you doing to address the issue?’ We have an obligation to protect those that attend our schools and those citizens that are providing them with an education."
“I am grateful that Congressman Meadows contacted me and wanted to tour schools in the district to learn first hand what measures are being taken concerning safety,” said Holland. “It was great to see him take the time to talk with and listen to school administrators and other staff members to better learn what he can do to help.”
After his visit to Macon County and other schools in the 11th Congressional District, Meadows was able to see first hand the steps being taken on the local level to protect the future of the country. After seeing what so many individuals are already doing to ensure that schools are as safe as possible, Meadows said that he wanted to work even harder on the national level to make sure that the security of the nation's children is a top priority.