Vitti talks about school safety changes

More resource officers to be at elementary schools in new year

Nikolai Vitti speaks about school safety changes.
Nikolai Vitti speaks about school safety changes.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The aftershocks of what happened in Newtown, Conn., are being felt in school districts all around the country.

Can lessons be learned from what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Would having a school resource officer in elementary schools prevent something like this from happening?

Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti spoke Tuesday about changes he's looking to make in the local school system.

Since Friday, Vitti said, the school district has looked at everything from gates and perimeters to visitor passes when someone comes onto campus. One thing that will happen in the new year, students and teachers will see more of a presence by police.

Vitti said he wants to place more school resource officers in elementary schools.

"Right now, they're mainly positioned in our high schools and in our middle schools. We're looking at them serving more time at the elementary schools," he said. "Not permanently, but to be more visible in our elementary schools as well."

There are 183 schools in Duval County, and 104 are elementary schools. The Duval County Public School Police Department says there are roughly 75 officers, with usually only one assigned to a middle school or high school. So how many officers are needed and how long they would remain on guard at the elementary schools is unclear.

"Placing one in every elementary school right now would not happen permanently," Vitti said. "It's just more visible, expanding the role of those officers right now."

As for emergency drills, Vitti says schools run two at the beginning of every school year within the first 30 days of class. After that, schools conduct one lockdown drill every month.

Vitti said when the district tweaks the emergency and communication plans, teacher and administrators will be retrained when school starts back up in January. Student intervention is still one of Vitti's concerns.

"When we're seeing students that are struggling, that are showing signs of frustration, anger, are we intervening as a school district and as a school to ensure help is provided?" Vitti said.

State Rep. says lift gun ban in schools

In Florida, only law enforcement officers can carry a weapon into public schools. But what if teachers and principals were allowed to carry firearms into class?

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, says he's open to the idea. Baxley told a reporter he favors ending the gun ban in schools.

It's a third-degree felony for those caught just bringing a weapon into a school. A lot of people think the answer to school shootings is more guns, not fewer guns.

"We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," Baxley told a reporter Monday. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm, we've created all these gun-free zones, and what we've inadvertently done is we've made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped."

Baxley was talking about allowing teachers and principals to bring guns to school. On Tuesday, Baxley's office sent a statement regarding his comments and the recent Connecticut tragedy. It reads, "Our focus should be on the victims and their loved ones. Out of respect for them, we should not politicize a national tragedy. There will be plenty of time for debate in the near future."

"I believe we should have a robust conversation about solutions, but I don't think one of them should be giving firearms to teachers," Vitti said at Tuesday's news conference. "Again, I just don't think the solution is more guns. I think the solution is tighter gun control, proper training when individuals have guns and being more proactive when identifying individuals that are showing signs of doing something like this."

School Board Member Becki Couch agrees.

"We have people who are trained to use firearms, and those are police officers," Couch said. "Children deserve to have joy and happiness and not constant fear, and the presence of firearms on campus would give them that."

According to the Associated Press, Baxley said he doesn't plan on introducing any bill himself in the upcoming legislative session.

Seven years ago, Baxley sponsored the controversial "stand your ground" law, which went into effect in 2005.