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It is a sad reality these days that schools must be conscious of unwanted intruders, but one local institution will be prepared if the unthinkable were to happen.

Vidalia Heritage Academy Headmaster Jeff McCormick said, “After the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and other school shootings, we knew we needed to do something in addition to contacting police. Unfortunately, nationwide, the response by law enforcement is about 10 minutes, and a shooter can do a lot of harm in just   a minute or so. We heard about a program that the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and the Laurens County School System had implemented, and our staff and Board agreed to work with them for the safety of our students.”

Of the fifty-five staff members, around twenty volunteered this summer to be a part of the program. The identities of those individuals will not be made public, and only VHA Board members, administration, and safety staff will know who they are.

The unidentified staff members underwent extensive curriculum and had to qualify at a gun range and pass psychological tests to be approved by the school and its Board to have access to a weapon. The training was very similar to that of law enforcement, but where it differs is law enforcement has to go to a range yearly; those at VHA who will have access to guns to protect students and fellow staff members must go monthly.

“No teachers, paraprofessionals or other staff members are going to be walking around with a gun strapped to their side,” McCormick explained. “The weapons will be easily accessible to those who’ve qualified, but the guns will be kept in a locked combination box with that combination known, again, only to those who need to know.”

VHA already had cameras and other technology in place to monitor the campus and business, and now will have the ability to confront a situation head-on if necessary. And Vidalia Heritage goes even further. According to Headmaster McCormick active shooter drills are practiced quarterly by the staff.

McCormick said the addition of weapons by certain VHA staff is supported by the Toombs County Sheriff’s Office and the Vidalia Police Department.

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