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August 6, 2018

School Security: What to expect during the new school year

By Jeff Eakins, Sheriff Chad Chronister, and Anu Varma Panchal

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister share their security plan as the school year begins 

As our students, families and school staff enjoyed their summer, Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have been working hard to provide a safe learning environment for all students. 

For us, there is nothing more important than security of our children. You will see changes this year when you get back to school, and we want let you know what to expect before the first car line or bus ride Aug. 10. 

School security

As of this past spring, the State of Florida now requires an armed, trained first responder on every campus beginning this school year. 

Thanks to our strong local partnerships, we are uniquely prepared in Hillsborough County to take on this challenge. 

In our middle and high schools, students, staff and parents will continue to see a school resource deputy or officer from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police Department. 

New this year, every public elementary and charter school will now have a first responder; this position will ultimately be staffed by School Security officers from Hillsborough County Public Schools. 

school security tampa bay

For the past 49 years, Hillsborough County Public Schools has had School Security officers on many campuses. They are employed by the district and already receive high quality law enforcement-level training. Two-thirds of the current School Security officers are current or former law enforcement officers. One-third of the officers have a military background. 

These officers must go through more than 100 hours of training by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which includes active shooter response, defensive tactics and firearms training, in addition to training the district provides. 

It will take some time to hire the 210 additional security officers and supervisors that are needed. Until we get there, we plan to have either a current School Security officer, sheriff’s deputy or police officer on hand every day. 

This strong show of force in Hillsborough County is unique in the state and we are very proud of that. Thanks to the commitment from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Plant City Police Chief Ed Duncan, we are meeting our obligation to the state, but more importantly, we are meeting our obligation to our most important resource, our kids. 

We understand the realities you face when you send your child to school each morning. We want you to know we understand that at a personal level and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide a safe learning environment for your child. Thank you for your trust in us and we look forward to another great school year. Welcome back! 


A look at school security plans in Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties

Written by Anu Varma Panchal, Tampa Bay Parenting’s associate editor

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, school districts around the state have worked hard to revamp security procedures. Some of this change is mandated by a new law passed by the 2018 Florida Legislature—SB 7026. Among other measures, the bill requires all school districts to choose from one of these three options starting this upcoming school year:  

  • Provide school resource officers (SRO) at each school,  
  • Provide school safety officers for each school or,  
  • Participate in the school guardian program requiring certain school personnel to be armed.  

Area districts have spent the summer examining budgets, making decisions and implementing new procedures.  

On May 1, Pasco County School Board approved Superintendent Kurt Browning’s proposal to hire a director of school safety and security and up to 50 school safety guards. The director came on board June 4, says Linda Cobbe, public information officer for Pasco County Schools, and on the same day, training began for the first 50 guards hired.  

“We opened up the application process twice since the initial advertisement, and have a total of 55 now, who are at various stages of Coach Aaron Feis School Guardian training with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office,” says Cobbe. The first cohort was expected to graduate  July 30. 

All Pasco schools have completed their Florida Safe School Assessment Tool (FSSAT) clinics and have completed walk-throughs, Cobbe says, and the district is making safety guard school assignments. 

All middle and high schools will continue to be staffed with an SRO through the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments. 

“Pinellas County Schools has made an extensive effort to maximize the safety and security of all schools,” says Lisa Wolf, public information officer and interim director of strategic communications for Pinellas County School Board. “Following the tragedy in Parkland, the school district reviewed numerous safety measures already in place.” 

Wolf says the following measures will be instituted for the 2018-2019 school year: Armed security officers will be placed at every school campus. Every campus security plan will be fully reviewed and campuses will be physically assessed by school staff and local law enforcement. 

School leaders and staff members will receive training on active shooter scenarios and mental health awareness, and processes for threat assessments will be refined. There will also be increased mental health services and age-appropriate training and education for students on safety procedures. Students can expect active shooter drills on a regular basis. Pinellas is also going to partner with Sandy Hook Promise to enhance resources and training for students and staff in middle and high schools. 

According to Jason Geary, senior coordinator of media relations for Polk County Public Schools, that district has created an entirely new district position (School Safety Guardians) in collaboration with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. 

Elementary schools and Learning Centers will have a School Safety Guardian. Middle and high schools will have a school resource officer (SRO) from a local law enforcement agency. Technical colleges have high school programs, so they will have a school resource officer, and adult schools will have a School Safety Guardian. 

The School Safety Guardians are not the same as SROs; they will have no authority to arrest and will not be considered law enforcement. However, this new employee position will be certified through the Polk County Sheriff’s Office guardian program, which will allow School Safety Guardians to carry a firearm on campuses. Each of these designated individuals must undergo a background check, drug test, psychological exam and 144 hours of specialized training. 

The county is looking to fill 90 School Safety Guardian positions before the first day of school Aug. 13.  

Pasco County School Board:   

  • The Board hired a director of school safety and security and up to 55 school safety guards who are at various stages of Coach Aaron Feis School Guardian training with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.  
  • All Pasco schools have completed their Florida Safe School Assessment Tool (FSSAT) clinics and have completed walk-throughs. 
  • All middle and high schools will continue to be staffed with an SRO through the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments. 

Pinellas County: 

  • Armed security officers will be placed at every school campus and processes for threat assessments will be refined. 
  • Every campus security plan will be fully reviewed and campuses will be physically assessed by school staff and local law enforcement. 
  • School leaders and staff members will receive training on active shooter scenarios and active shooter drills will be conducted on a regular basis. 
  • There will also be increased mental health services and age-appropriate training and education for students on safety procedures. Pinellas will partner with Sandy Hook Promise to enhance resources and training for students and staff in middle and high schools.  

Polk County:  

  • A new district position of School Safety Guardians has been created in collaboration with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. 
  • 90 School Safety Guardians will be certified through the Polk County Sheriff’s Office guardian program, which will allow them to carry a firearm on campuses. They will undergo a background check, drug test, psychological exam and 144 hours of specialized training and will staff elementary schools and Learning Centers.  
  • Middle and high schools will have a school resource officer (SRO) from a local law enforcement agency. Technical colleges have high school programs, so they will have a school resource officer, and adult schools will have a School Safety Guardian. 

 

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