District leaders listen to high school students' safety concerns

Superintendent's Student Advisory Council meets with leaders, law enforcement

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - As talk of safer schools continues in Florida, St. Johns County School District leaders listened to high school students' concerns.

Superintendent Tim Forson's Student Advisory Council met Monday with district leaders, and officers and deputies from St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County.

Madison Hobbs and Grayce Halter, seniors at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, were among dozens of St. Johns County juniors and seniors on the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council who were asked the question: What would remove the fear of not feeling safe in your school environment?

"We can’t really figure out what’s going to make us feel safe if we don’t first identify what makes us feel unsafe," Hobbs said. "So we first started talking about, you know, maybe some of the doors around our school are unlocked."

Hobbs and Halter talked with News4Jax on Thursday about the suggestions they offered during Monday's meetings, one of which included having more than just one normal lock on a door -- such as a lock that can only be accessed from the inside of the classroom.

RELATED: Old St. Johns County school buildings need some safety upgrades

The two seniors and their peers shared a range of ideas for safety changes and mental health improvements, including making guidance counselors more accessible and adding counselors whose focus isn't just on college guidance, but on behavior and mental health.

"Maybe counselors, specifically separated for just talking to the kids, being in their office at all times, not having to schedule appointments -- where you can just walk in and talk," Halter added. "A lot of times, our school counselors have different things to do. They have lunch duties. They have appointments. So it's kind of hard to get in there every now and then."

They suggested assigning student mentors or coaches for students who need help and guidance with mental health support.

The two seniors said they also feel drills may have become too uniform.

"One of the deputies said, 'Your body can't prepare for something your mind has never thought of,'" Hobbs said. "So he brought up possibly bringing in someone to speak to schools once a year to train." 

They want to see their lockdown drills updated to include active shooter situations and for there to be more drills, and they suggested that part of adding resource officers to campuses should include the school's parking attendant patrolling and securing the campus during the school day.

Monday's discussion took place less than two weeks after 17 people were killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The Pedro Menendez students said the shooting hit them hard.

"All of us were walking to school anxious and walking into a place where we are usually happy, and ready to come and learn," Hobbs said. "We had this sense of fear in us."

Some of the other suggestions from the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council included requiring students and staff to wear ID badges at all times, and adding another school resource officer on campus -- so one can focus on security and the other can focus on discpline. 

They also support creating single-point entries for all schools and want ways to barricade a door, if necessary.

Though the two seniors are getting ready for college, they want to leave their school and the district safer than ever before. 

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