Lawmakers Ask: "How Safe Are Florida Schools?"

Jan 15, 2013

The Senate Education Committee spoke at length with local school district officials about policies and technologies in place aimed at preventing tragedies like last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Connecticut.

Superintendents from Leon, Wakulla and St. Johns County School districts offered suggestions and shared advice with senators about ways to improve school safety. That includes conducting school surveys with safety officials, using licensed law enforcement officials as school resource officers, and installing cameras in schools and monitoring them remotely.

“We have 10 facilities, nine student facilities and one admin complex. But we have 140 cameras,” said Wakulla County School Superintendent Robert Pearce.

Both Leon and St. Johns County also have cameras in schools. The superintendents say buildings could be modified to make them safer, but St. Johns Superintendent Joe Joyner says those kind fixes could be pricey.

“In some cases, schools were built 20 years ago where the outside door has direct access to a classroom. So we have to slow things down a bit. We may need a way to deflect an intruder that comes in. So we may need some flexibility in minor capital improvements if we need it in that direction," he told the committee.

Still, lawmakers like Senator David Simmons want to know if schools are ready now for the next crisis should it occur.

“Are you going to need to build more fences around our schools and simply treat them as, like private schools...no one gets in? Is that what we’re going to have to do?” 

But Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons say there’s really no guaranteed way to prevent the next tragedy, and “things will still occur in our schools and our community, and unless we change this in our community, it will still filter its way into our schools.”   

But there’s one suggestion floated in recent weeks that the superintendents say they’re completely against. And that is letting teachers carry guns.

“I had a teacher who, six weeks ago, shot himself in the leg and he’s very good with guns, but he wasn’t using his holster and he put it in his belt and it went through his groin," said Santa Rosa County school administrator Grady Cannon. 

"So, accidents are going to happen if you put those kind of things in the hands of the public, so please don’t consider that a viable option of putting weapons in the hands of our educators.”  

The National Rifle Association has suggested allowing teachers and administrator carry weapons and at least one state representative, Republican Dennis Baxley of Ocala, said he would support lifting a ban on guns in schools. Governor Rick Scott is also talking about school safety, saying its good lawmakers are looking into it:

“We need to have a conversation about how we make sure that everybody who goes to our schools, as a teacher as a parent, as a student, are safe," Scott said.

But the governor hasn’t made any recommendations of his own. Districts are reviewing their safety policies and many have placed school resource officers in elementary schools. Others are asking the governor for more money to fund the officer program. And at the federal level, lawmakers are considering reinstating a ban on assault weapons.

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