Parents notice beefed up security at St. Johns County schools

Armed guards, damage-resistant glass and electronic checkpoints among additions

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The presence of armed guards isn’t the only new layer of security in St. Johns County public schools in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

Parents will also notice other security measures, such as a single point-of-entry and damage-resistant tempered glass, when they drop off their students.

On Friday, News4Jax visited several campuses in St. Johns County, where parents said the efforts to make students safer made them feel much more at ease.

The extra security arose in part from the fallout of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people and wounded 17 more.

The changes weren’t lost on Tara Kucker, who sends two children to school at Valley Ridge Academy. She took notice while dropping her daughter off at kindergarten for the day.

"There was a security guard standing at the door, which did make me feel comfortable knowing that there was extra security compared to prior years," said Kucker.

Workers made security upgrades at buildings throughout the district over summer break, including the tempered glass protecting the front lobby at Hickory Creek Elementary.

To enter the schools, parents and volunteers must pass a background check and sign in using a computer system. At some schools, you can scan your driver’s license to confirm your identity.

The upgrades are funded by a half-cent sales tax passed in 2015. Other security measures include additional fencing, surveillance cameras and enhanced training for school staff.

Superintendent Tim Forson said the training deals with both security and mental health. The schools have added mental health counselors in the hopes of reaching at-risk students in crisis.

Forson said that will help the district react faster to students in distress. He said many of these changes came from parent input at town hall meetings. He added they’ll continue to make changes as needed.

"We become a little more of a bridge, where we can provide ongoing services to them until they can get to an agency within the community that can provide long-term support," he said.

St. Johns County isn’t alone in shoring up school security. 

Take Duval County, for instance, where administrators have added an electronic entry check-in at all schools. Or Clay County, which added electronic check-ins, more fencing and a bullying hotline.

All three districts lock classrooms once students are inside.

It’s those extra layers of security that help parents, like Kucker, feel confident about dropping their children off at school.

"That’s why I send my kids to this school," she said. "I feel like they are as safe as they could be."

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