CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis is hosting a series of "Listen and Learn" community meetings to discuss school safety.
The first meeting took place Monday night at Fleming Island High School, where Davis answered questions from concerned parents and talked about ways to make sure students are safe.
"I was able to sit on Channel 4's 'Generation Under Fire' panel the other day and when they initially asked a question, 'Do our kids feel safe?' and no one raised their hand, it really saddened me as a leader," Davis said.
Arming teachers to protect children from the type of mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school has been a controversial proposal that Davis doesn’t agree with.
“Ultimately, I’d rather have law enforcement be the standing individual that is armed within our schools," he said. "At this stage, we shouldn’t be talking about arming our teachers.”
But placing armed resource officers in every school is costly, and the topic of funding for school safety dominated Monday night's meeting. Although Gov. Rick Scott approved $400 million to pay for school security, Clay County only received $2.5 million. Davis said the Clay County school district needs at least $15 million.
“We’re still underfunding for what we have to do: place a (school resource officer) in every one of our schools, to look at school hardening, metal doors, metal detectors and immediate response mechanisms for teachers," Davis said.
Parents who attended the meeting suggested that higher taxes may be the solution.
“I think that, if we look at a $200 per home contribution to hardening our schools, I don’t think that’s an unsolvable problem. I think that’s a societal problem," parent Tim Colbey said. "People need to realize, the taxes they pay go to things like making our schools safe.”
Parent Chris Wadley added, “Higher taxes is probably an option. I’m sure some are going to disagree with that. I don’t know if I want to pay higher taxes, but I want my kids to be safe. So if that’s what it comes to, then I’m willing to do it.”
Wadley also suggested having deputies provide a law enforcement presence on school campuses by parking in school parking lots while writing their daily reports. He said the presence alone could deter an armed person with bad intentions.
During the community meeting, Davis also brought up the use of metal detectors in schools. He said he's not keen on the idea of placing them in every school because he doesn't want to incite fear, nor does he want students taking long periods of time going through the process as if they were dealing with the Transportation Security Administration at airports.
Davis invited other parents to attend the upcoming meetings to discuss the steps the district is taking after the Parkland school shooting and how new legislation will affect the district.
"The goal of these sessions is to work collectively with parents, students, employees, and stakeholders to address concerns, answer questions, and identify strategies for creating a safe environment in all schools. I invite all stakeholders to become a part of the roundtable discussion and demonstrate our partnership for continuing to offer safe and respectful schools in Clay County,” reads part of a statement from Davis.
Along with his leadership team, Davis will discuss the following topics at the community meetings:
- The Clay County District Schools' current response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
- The district’s next steps to continue to ensure a safe learning environment for all
- The impact of Senate Bill 7026 on Clay County schools
- The vision for additional safety and security measures within schools and the need for additional revenue
- The district’s partnerships with local law enforcement agencies
5 recent arrests
The county has been plagued with threats since the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting, and at least five arrests have been made.
- The most recent arrest was that of 23-year-old Charles Waxler on March 12. He is accused of leaving a threatening note on the front door of a school. He now faces felony charges.
- On March 9, deputies said, 12-year-old Michael Matthews made a written threat in a classroom at Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School. Matthews faces two felony charges and a misdemeanor.
- On March 7, 15-year-old Trenton Edsall was accused of writing, "I'm going to shoot the school up," in the boys restroom at the same Keystone Heights school.
- On Feb. 23, 13-year-old Rosa Toledo was arrested on two felonies and one misdemeanor count relating to a threat to the school that was posted on social media.
- Hours earlier, on that same day, 15-year-old Alexandria Ashanti Summerset, a freshman at Oakleaf High School, was arrested in connection with a series of social media threats about a potential shooting at the high school.
Mark your calendar
There are seven meetings scheduled, and the first one took place at 6 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria of Fleming Island High School. Below is the schedule for the remaining six community meetings that will take place:
Cafeteria of Oakleaf High School
Cafeteria of Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School
Cafeteria of Orange Park High School
Cafeteria of Ridgeview High School
Media center of Middleburg High School
Media center of Clay High School
All parents, employees, students and community members are welcome. All meetings will be available on Facebook Live on the Clay County District Schools Facebook page.
Clay County sheriff to speak at Oakleaf High
Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels will continue his “Straight Talk” program Tuesday morning when he speaks to the Oakleaf High School student body.
As part of the program, Daniels meets with Clay County students of all ages to speak with them about issues of importance to students, including school shootings, school safety and bullying.
Daniels held similar meetings at Orange Park High School, Orange Park Junior High School and Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School, as well as several of the elementary schools.
New resource to report school tips
On Friday, Daniels introduced a new resource for residents, both adults and teenagers, to submit tips to his agency.
When residents click that hyperlink, they will have two options to click: "School Safety Tip" or "Criminal Safety Tip."
Tips can be submitted anonymously. Tips will be sent 24 hours a day to an official and be followed up on, the Sheriff's Office said.
Daniels said the initiative aims to give the community as many options as possible to provide information on criminal activity in the area.
Community Partnership School initiative
On Wednesday, Davis, state Sen. Rob Bradley and other local leaders will announce the launch this month of the first Community Partnership School model at Wilkinson Junior High School in Middleburg.
The school district said the Community Partnership School model will allow local nonprofits, businesses and faith-based organizations to bring services and solutions into schools and communities. The initiative aims to address key barriers to learning, including poverty, hunger, insufficient access to health care and mental health resources, and elevated rates of violence and crime.
According to the district, Wilkinson was chosen as the first junior high school in Northeast Florida to implement the model because nearly half of its student population qualifies for free lunch, the school's surrounding neighborhoods have a 16.85 percent poverty rate in comparison to the state rate of 11.7 percent and the local unemployment rate of 7 percent is almost double the state average of 3.6 percent.