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Amid Safety Talks, Administrator Warns Against Making Schools 'Mini-Prisons'

Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, after a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people.
Mike Stocker
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In the wake of the deaths of 17 people from a shooting at a Broward High School, people are once again focusing on school safety. Administrators and elected officials alike are pushing for more funding to shore up infrastructure, but some are beginning to wonder if that’s enough.

Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, after a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people.
Credit Mike Stocker / / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP
The Florida Channel
Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, after a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people.

A day after a gunman killed 17 of his former classmates and teachers at a Broward high school, Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna tried to reassure worried parents in his district:

“We’re going to immediately launch a comprehensive assessment of what we’re doing in our schools, he said while standing in front of Fairview Middle School with Leon Sheriff Walt McNeil.

"We believe our schools are safe and that parents shouldn’t have to worry when they’re sending their kids to any of our schools and them not being protected at all times…but again, this is a call to action for us and every other school system across the country to evaluate what procedures we have in place and how we can improve."

Fairview is gated as are all Leon County schools. There’s only one way in and out for elementary and middle schools during the school day. And middle and high schools also have armed resource officers who are licensed law enforcement officials.  

As Hanna worked to reassure worried parents in Florida's capital county, Senate President Joe Negron was trying to do the same over at the state capitol, stating his chamber's, "ongoing commitment to increase funding for mental health services in our schools and have an increased commitment to school safety.” 

Negron's  call for more school safety funding was repeated in a statement by fellow Republican Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. At present, the Senate has about $90 million budgeted for the safe schools fund. The House has proposed no increase to the current $75 million allocation, but Negron says that soon change in the wake of the South Florida tragedy and he notes it’s far harder to get into a school today than it used to be:

“There are much more rigorous security precautions in place for parents—who are known to administrators by name.  So we have done a lot of things in hardening our schools and making them more safe. We have more school resource officers, stricter ingress and egress from our campuses.”

Yet some of those same precautions, like fencing, active shooter drills, SRO’s and single entry points failed the day of the shooting.

“Nobody wants our schools to turn into mini-prisons, where we sign every child in, every child out," said Florida Association of School Administrators President Bill Lee.

Lee is also asking lawmakers to put more funding toward shoring up school safety resources—like more mental health counseling services, cameras, emergency alert and internal communication systems, and increasing school resource officers. The association is asking lawmakers for an increase to the safe schools fund. But how much is needed?

If I said this, it would be presumptuous I suppose, but, however much it takes for us to not have something like this again. Whatever that is.”

Still, he’s frank. The reality, he says is that there may be no amount of money that’s enough to prevent another school shooting.

“Well, the sheriff down there in Broward County, on television the other day, I saw him and he made a statement: if you get an individual who is deranged, and committed to doing something, there’s not a lot that many people can do.”  

Districts are now looking at changing the way they assess active shooters—switching their drills to events that could happen during class changes or in the most recent example—when students are mobile. And Negron briefly floated metal detectors, though, he stopped short of suggesting it for all schools. And district officials are also re-examining how they conduct fire drills—moving from an immediate response to an alarm, to a system of verification before taking action.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.