Jacksonville-area school districts on alert after Parkland mass shooting

Local counties say security increased after fatal attack at high school

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - School districts around the Jacksonville area were on high alert following Wednesday's deadly mass shooting at a South Florida high school.

District administrators said they were increasing security after 17 adults and children were killed by a gunman in Parkland. They did not reveal exactly what changes were made, citing security reasons.

Leaders with Duval, St. Johns, Clay and Nassau counties said they had reviewed their plans in case of a similar emergency. At a Thursday news conference, Duval County district leaders said they had been reviewing safety measures in meetings all day long.

Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis said administrators are looking specifically at the locking mechanisms on doors at eight schools. Those schools, she said, don't have buzzers to communicate with the front officer before doors are unlocked.

News4Jax reached out to a Duval County schools spokesperson for more information on the safety procedures at the schools in question. This story will be updated once the district's response is received.

As parents were already on edge about the deadly shooting in Broward County, a 17-year-old was shot in Arlington on Thursday, while walking by an elementary school. A window of the school's front office was hit by a bullet, but no one inside was injured.

National reports show the Parkland shooting was the 18th school shooting so far this year, and the violence has parents worried.

“You just pray and, like I say, keep your children covered every day,” said Julius Wilkerson, the father of a First Coast High School student. “But you still have to live your life. Just hope you never get that call or see a newsflash that it happened at your child's school.”

Willis said students need to report suspicious activity. 

“If we see something, or see a behavior or comments on social media that may be considered a threat, that needs to be brought to the attention of school staff, a parent, (the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) or school officers,” Willis said.

Nassau, Clay and St. Johns counties released statements and delivered robocalls to parents, reassuring them that students will have the support they need if they are afraid to come to school. 

Florida Blue and New Directions Behavioral Health are also providing a free grief counseling line to all Floridians at 800-843-6514. Counselors are available 24/7 and in English and Spanish. Callers do not need to be Florida Blue members.

See below for more responses from each local school district:

Duval County

Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis sent this statement out Thursday: 

Dear Team Duval,

I’m sure that you are aware that our Florida school family, Broward County Schools, has been shaken by an unthinkable tragedy. Our sympathy and condolences go to the Broward community and particularly to the families, students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Please know that we are reaching out to their leadership to offer any practical support we can provide.  Also, please be assured that we have implemented extensive safety procedures and protocols, and we will continue to be vigilant in our review and rehearsals to ensure we have the best possible response in the event of an emergency for the safety of both our students and employees.

For the full statement, click here.

For information on counselors and other school resources, go to dcps.duvalschools.org.

St. Johns County

Superintendent Tim Forson delivered this robocall message to parents:

Today our hearts go out to the families impacted by the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fl. 

Unfortunately, these events serve as a reminder of why it is so important that we constantly review and evaluate the safety of our schools.  I have been in contact with Sheriff Shoar, together we are committed to continuing our work to ensure the highest level of safety for our schools.  Please know that school safety is an integral part of the daily operations.  

We have placed on our school district website resources that may be useful when talking to your children about this type of event.  Our schools are also prepared to assist students that may need support and our school guidance counselors are available to speak with any student or parents in need.

In closing, we ask that you and your children focus on situational awareness. When children or adults are faced with the decision on whether or not to tell law enforcement about something that seems suspicious, it is imperative that we always think about our safety and the safety of others first. 

Thank you very much for your continued support of our schools.

And the Sheriff's Office posted the following to Facebook:

The St Johns County Sheriffs Office takes the safety of you and your family very seriously. Not only is it part of our motto, “Taking Care of People,” but it’s part of what being a Deputy is all about: keeping the men, women, and children of St Johns County safe.

That’s why Sheriff Shoar has placed a Sheriffs Deputy at each and every school in St Johns County today. We want you to know that we stand ready to defend the lives of you and your children should a threat come our way and will do everything we can to make sure that they remain safe.

Please know that as we stand ready, your children are safe. There is no threat to any schools here in St Johns County at this time, and we are here to make sure it remains that way; a visual reminder that we are here, and we are watching.

For information on counselors and other school resources, go to http://www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/.

Clay County

Superintendent Addison Davis released a statement Thursday:

Clay County District Schools extends its sincere condolences and prayers to all students, teachers, administrators, school community, families and loved ones affected by the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. No student, teacher or staff member should experience this horrific act within our schools.

As the leader of Clay County Schools, I want to reassure everyone that safety will always be our greatest priority. It is essential that each school and workplace be a safe and respectful environment in which students can learn, teachers can teach, and employees can work together to support our students intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Our leadership will continue to focus on strengthening an environment that is positive and aligned with a violence prevention focus.

Since yesterday’s event, I have reminded all employees to continuously work together and be mindful of best practices linked to school safety. This includes reviewing emergency plans, drills, and protocols throughout all schools. As a district, we will continue to review our procedures and policies in order to provide safeguards to all students and employees at all times.

Today, in keeping with our daily priorities, law enforcement will continue to be in and around our schools. Over the past year, we have been more diligent in our efforts to collaborate with our local law enforcement agencies to ensure best practices for school safety. We will continue to work together and remain Clay Strong."

For information on counselors and other school resources, go to oneclay.net.

Nassau County

J. Ray Poole, chief of legal services for the school district, issued a statement Thursday:

Sadly, shootings at our nation's schools and universities are happening at an alarming rate. To address that risk, the Nassau County School District has created and implemented a written, Comprehensive Crisis Plan that sets forth detailed procedures that are to be followed by school personnel when responding to various emergency scenarios, including shooters on campus. Additionally, twice each year, every school undergoes a lockdown drill that is designed to prepare students and staff for active shooter scenarios. Finally, Nassau County public schools are staffed with sworn law enforcement officers from the Nassau County Sheriff's Office and Fernandina Beach Police Department. 

For information on counselors and other school resources, go to nassau.k12.fl.us.

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