Northeast Florida counties respond to Gov. Scott's school safety plan

Districts, sheriff's offices support changes, but say more funding needed

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A $500 million school safety plan announced Friday by Gov. Rick Scott would, among other changes, add an armed officer for every 1,000 students at all Florida public schools.

The plan met mostly with approval from the Jacksonville-area school districts and sheriff's offices that will be tasked with implementing it.

Scott's plan includes school-hardening measures, such as metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks, which he wants in place by July 1.

ACTION PLAN: Bullet points of Gov. Scott's plan

He also outlined a number of other changes, from a statewide “see something, say something” hotline, website and mobile app, to require each school to have a threat assessment team and training for personnel in crisis intervention.

He wants every public school to submit a plan to their county sheriff's office by July 1 on how they will meet the new safety guidelines.

Current and former high school students told News4Jax on Friday that they support more police officers on school campuses.

“I feel the more police we have, the better protected we are,” Clay County High School student Chloe Dupree said.

News4Jax contacted most of the Northeast Florida school district and sheriff's offices, some of which indicated they are already working together to protect schools and review the governor's initiative.

Some said they need more time to look over the plan before they comment.

We've included the responses we received below:

Duval County

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says it’s too early to comment as it’s just beginning to review the governor’s speech and his long-term goals. 

The Duval County school district issued the following response.

"We appreciate the Governor’s plan and his pledge of support for school safety. We look forward to seeing the details of the legislation which is proposed and ultimately funded. His 'Keep Students Safe' plan is a great start, and if the funding comes through, it’s a sound approach," the district said in a statement.

The school district also provided a point-by-point response to the governor's plan:

(Note: The bold text is from the governor's document and Duval County Public Schools' assessment is in the plain text underneath.)

Mandatory School Resource Officers in every public school. These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers and be present during all hours students are on campus. The size of the campus should be a factor in determining staffing levels by the county sheriff’s office, and Governor Scott is proposing at least one officer for every 1,000 students. This must be implemented by the start of the 2018 school year.

We are especially thankful that the Governor is proposing law enforcement officer support at each school and will be backing this with funding. We hope the Legislature keeps this funding intact without negatively impacting other school funding. 

Require mandatory active shooter training as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. All training and code red drills must be completed during the first week of each semester in all public schools. Both faculty and students must participate in active shooter drills and local sheriff’s offices must be involved in training; And require crisis intervention training for all school personnel. This training must be completed before the 2018 school start date.

The training the Governor described for crisis intervention and active shooter preparation appears to be aligned with training that we already do in Duval County Schools, so we are supportive of this initiative. Again, we will need to see the details of legislation to determine if we need to modify our training in any way to be in compliance with a new statutory requirement, but the intent of this part of his plan is already a priority with us. We also have strong crisis intervention response resources to engage positively when students might be a threat to themselves or others.

Provide sheriffs’ departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board.

With regard to the Governor giving authority to local law enforcement to assist us with training, we welcome this initiative because we already have a highly collaborative partnership with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Training is already occurring in Duval County through our Duval County School Police Department. Many of our school resource officers and our department leadership are veterans of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office. We have a strong relationship and partnership. 

Increase funding in the Safe Schools Allocation to address specific school safety needs within each district. This includes school hardening measures like metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. The Florida Department of Education (DOE), in conjunction with FDLE, will provide minimum school safety and security standards by July 1, 2018, to all school districts.

We look forward to receiving the minimum school safety standards this summer from FDOE and FDLE. We are also grateful for the pledge of increased funding to implement these recommendations. Implementing this might create other challenges with infrastructure needs, so we are hopeful that adequate funding for all needs will emerge as part of the final legislation. 

Require each school district that receives a Safe Schools Allocation to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the local sheriff’s office, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and any community behavioral health provider for the purpose of sharing information to coordinate services in order to provide prevention or intervention strategies.

We have no objection to entering into the memorandum of understanding with the state agencies as described to share information and coordinate services as it is allowable by law. State and Federal student privacy laws might need to be addressed to facilitate this sharing of information. 

Establish a new, anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” statewide, dedicated hotline, website and mobile app.

The Governor’s “see something – say something” hotline, website, and mobile application is a good idea if the process for response is sound.  A sound response would include both a rapid law enforcement response when appropriate and a supportive response that addresses emotional and mental health issues of students which may be illuminated through tips received through this technology.   

Establish funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to students at every school. These counselors cannot serve dual roles, such as teaching or academic advising. Every student must have the opportunity to meet annually one-on-one with a mental health professional, and receive ongoing counseling as needed.

Direct, additional funding for fully dedicated, school-based mental health counselors would be exceptionally well received in Duval County Public Schools. 

Require each school to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, a local law enforcement officer, a human resource officer, a DCF employee and DJJ employee, and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to students and staff at the school.

We are generally in support of the Governor’s description of the school-based threat assessment team. In large districts like Duval County, in light of the number of schools we have, there may be some logistical challenges, but we will do our part to successfully implement this initiative. 

St. Johns County

St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said he is hopeful and appreciates the seriousness being taken at the state level. He said the changes are definitely headed in the right direction, but added that it’s too soon to know where it will all land. We did not hear back from the sheriff's office.

Clay County

Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis said he was encouraged by Scott's actions to improve safety and security within all Florida schools.

In a statement, Davis said:

“As the leader of Clay County District Schools, I look forward to planning for his proposals in hopes of receiving additional financial supports. Regardless of what the state ultimately provides financially, we will always work to ensure a safe and respectful learning environment in Clay County District Schools by constantly reviewing best practices. I am appreciative that Governor Scott sees the value of placing school resource officers in every school and his willingness to ensure that school districts receive the proper appropriations should this become a reality.

Governor Scott’s vision for ensuring safe and secure schools, and identifying and supporting behavioral and mental health needs of our children and youth will be a key ingredient to creating resilient, confident, and productive learners. By expanding SEDNET services to include more social workers, school psychologists, and other clinical practitioners, school districts will be better equipped to provide behavior and mental health services to a greater cohort of students and begin to take measures in developing the whole family.

Governor Scott’s proposal offers school districts with the option to participate in the “school marshal” program, which would allow school personnel to carry firearms and act as part of the school’s security team.  While I understand the immediacy for our legislature to provide solutions, I personally cannot support arming classroom teachers.  Instead, our teachers should be armed with additional funding, inspiration, and the necessary resources to improve teaching and learning, ultimately, creating an environment where every student feels valued.  The teaching profession is already an extremely demanding and important field; it does not make sense that we risk distraction from this work by asking teachers to also be responsible for defending space with potentially lethal action. This responsibility should be left to those who are well-trained and are able to focus on this task. With that said, I am open to working with local law enforcement agencies in developing a blueprint that leads to the arming and training of select school-based and district staff, if necessary. I understand that this will take school board approval, but I stand ready to discuss this with all stakeholders on how we would like to move forward within the law.

Overall, I thank the Governor for his words and actions as we seek proactive strategies to strengthen the systems and infrastructures of our school district. Clay County District Schools will be closely watching the development of this proposal and maintain high hopes that we will not suffer financial losses in other categorical areas to make this plan come to fruition.”

We did not hear back from the sheriff's office.

Baker County

Officials with Baker County Schools said the district is still processing the information but embraces the July 1 deadline and feels it’s urgent to act as soon as possible for the safety of all students and staff.
Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden also supports the governor's initiative.

“I agree with Governor Scott that we should take additional measures to protect our children and school staff from individuals who wish to do them harm,” Rhoden said. “I have had several meetings this week with our school superintendent, Sherri Raulerson, discussing school safety in Baker County. We are committed to working together with Superintendent Raulerson to implement all safety measures required by this mandate.”

Nassau County

The legal representative for Nassau County Schools said the district supports the governor’s call for greater funding for school hardening measures and for law enforcement officers in every school. 
J. Ray Poole said the district has a variety of safety measures in place to protect students from potential shooters, including procedures, training, physical deterrents, surveillance equipment and offering mental health services.

He said most schools in the district already have officers assigned to them from either the sheriff's office or the Fernandina Beach Police Department. 

The schools also have surveillance cameras and panic buttons, Poole said.

A secured entrance was recently put in at Emma Love Hardee Elementary School and a similar one will be placed at Callahan Elementary School by the end of the school year, he said. Work is also currently underway to replace locks on all classroom doors.

Poole said each school undergoes two lockdown drills a year. 

“The most recent lockdown drill took place only two weeks prior to the Parkland shooting,” Poole said, adding that the district is already forming a threat assessment team to evaluate current safety measures. 

The district has also made plans to engage in county-wide training for students and employees on threat assessment and reporting, and a meeting is planned with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office next week to further evaluate safety efforts.

Poole said the district “looks forward to receiving additional funding from the Florida Legislature in order to improve upon the security measures that it already has in place.”

Sheriff Bill Leeper also responded to Scott's plan, saying he would like to see better hardening and security measures at his county's schools.

"I prefer teachers to teach and law enforcement officers to protect, but we will assist the local school board in whatever policy they develop," Leeper said. "I don’t have an issue with any of the proposals outlined by the governor; however, priorities are going to need to change in order to provide the funding necessary to implement these strategies."

He said providing more school resource officers will require those officers to be hired and trained before they can be assigned a school, which will take months to accomplish.

Flagler County

Flagler County school officials said putting together an action plan by July 1 shouldn’t be a problem because they work closely with the sheriff's office in updating school security and safety plans and already do training exercises with local law enforcement.

Finding the money to cover the required deputies for every school is another matter.

District spokesman Jason Wheeler said that the district currently has six school resource deputies for its nine schools. Permanently assigned deputies are at the two high schools, along with the sergeant in charge of the unit, who is headquartered at the district's largest high school. 

The district's two middle schools share a deputy with an elementary school that is adjacent to their campus. And a sixth resource deputy floats between the remaining three elementary schools.

“We welcome Governor Scott's plan to place SRDs or SROs on every campus, plus a deputy for every 1,000 students. Our current funding from Safe Schools, however, doesn't even cover the deputies we have now,” Wheeler said. “We will need to take some time to go over the governor's proposals and what financial support will come from state legislators."

Wheeler said the district regularly re-examines its safety protocols and welcomes help from the Legislature to make any needed changes.

“It is our hope our state lawmakers will give us the funds needed to make tangible safety improvements to all our campuses,” Wheeler said.

We have not heard back from the sheriff's office.

Putnam County

The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said it supports the governor’s proposed actions and plans to announce “a monumental change” in how the sheriff’s office addresses school threats. 

“It is with great sadness that we even need to have this discussion, but in light of the continuing threat of violence faced by our students and educators in our schools, it is time for action,” Sheriff Gator DeLoach said. “The coming changes in Putnam County are already under development and will take place in short order.”

DeLoach said no amount of money is too much to ensure the safety of the county's children.

“Our first priority is securing our students,” he said. “I will work with Governor Scott, the Putnam County Board of County Commissioners and my fellow sheriffs at the appropriate time to work out the financial aspects associated with these plans.”

He said the changes the governor is calling for would require an additional 14 deputies in Putnam County be assigned to schools.

DeLoach pointed out that the district already submits a safety plan to the sheriff's office every year and that the agencies just completed their most recent safety review.

“These sweeping changes will place additional responsibility and fiscal demands upon the Sheriff’s Office. This is about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, keeping killers out of our schools and protecting our children,” DeLoach said. “I am prepared to do just that, at any cost.”

The Putnam County School District said it welcomes additional funding that will allow for resource officers to be at each school. The district currently has officers only at its secondary schools.

"We also welcome additional funding for mental health services and funding to strengthen the exterior of our schools to prevent individuals from harming our students," the district wrote in a statement. "We are working very closely with our Sheriff’s Office to work out plans for additional measures for safety and security. Our district leadership staff has met with our principals to review all active shooter emergency procedures and to continue support for making our schools safer."

Columbia County

Representatives with Columbia County Schools said the district supports an increase in its "Safe Schools" allocation.

"In the last year we have taken great measures to provide a safe learning environment for our students and staff by creating a single entry point at our schools," the district said in a statement. "We are encouraged by the extra support, but know that our biggest tool in stopping school violence is simply 'listening' to our students."

District officials said they will continue to work with the governor's office, state legislature and local law enforcement officers to develop a comprehensive safe school action plan.

"The July 1 deadline is a start and can be met, but all plans should be fluid and continue to be updated," the district said.

We have not heard back from the sheriff's office.

Not yet responded

The school districts and sheriff's offices in Bradford counties haven’t responded yet to our requests for comment on the governor's plan. 

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