JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The deadly mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that left 19 students dead has raised a lot of questions about how accessible campuses are.
So News4JAX took a closer look at security in our local schools.
We found that most local schools are either built or retrofitted with a “single point of entry” set-up, meaning no one gets into the building except through one entrance.
That allows the schools to screen anyone coming in. But recent changes at the state level have attempted to make Florida schools even more secure in the wake of the 2018 shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.
There will be boosted security at many local schools for the rest of the week in response to the 21 killed in Texas.
On Duval county’s campuses, no backpacks or large purses are allowed and extra law enforcement and security personnel are patrolling the district during the final week of classes.
Clay County’s schools are also increasing their law enforcement staff with the chief warning students, staff and families.
“One set of eyes is good, two are better, and then in with a collaborative effort from the community, teachers faculties, because we wholeheartedly believe in the system of if you see something, say something,” said Kenneth Wagner, Chief of Police for Clay County District Schools.
The increased safety measures on Wednesday follow several years of policy updates to Florida’s school security.
Many schools have adopted the single-point of entry procedure. Wagner said campuses are set up with “inclusive” and “exclusive” zones.
“An inclusive area would be somewhere outside of the fence, at the parking lot to the school would be inclusive. But once you step into that single point entry being the front office, that is an exclusive area from that point behind,” he said.
Florida bolstered its school security policy after the Parkland shooting in 2018.
Since then, a new state office of safe schools was established, the school guardian program was launched, and new digital apps were adopted to report suspicious activity or immediately alert law enforcement about an emergency.
Wagner said the Clay school district uses Safer Watch, an app that complies with Alyssa’s Law which is a law named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, one of 17 victims in Parkland.
“Safer Watch is twofold. It’s a two-way type of communication for in the schools. We’re in compliance with Alyssa’s Law where it’s an emergency mobile panic button. And what that does is faculty members, students, and school administrators have instant access to alerts. And not only does that alert but it also geolocates them on campus so that when this panic button goes off, right there in the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in their real-time crime lab, it immediately alerts this thing hits even before 911 is called,” Wagner said.
There are also armed law enforcement officers at all 41 public school campuses in Clay County.
Serena Rodrigues has worked with March For Our Lives, a gun-reform organization born out of the Parkland shooting.
She said the country can continue to fortify public schools but added it makes more sense to more-diligently regulate firearms so that schools don’t need that fortification.
“But there’s so much that can be done federally, even if it’s just introducing background checks or a ban on assault weapons. We need something comprehensive,” Rodrigues said.
Each year, every school uses the “Florida safe schools assessment,” an online tool that essentially grades schools on crisis preparedness, violence prevention policies, physical security measures and more.
But those reports obviously contain sensitive security information which can’t be released to the public.
Tragedy on the minds of high school graduates & parents
For some students, the tragedy in Texas overshadows what should be a large milestone — graduation.
Mandarin High School students on Wednesday night donned their caps and gowns, walking in their graduation ceremony at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Retrinda Radford was eager to watch her son get his diploma, but at the same time, she was thinking about the 21 people who died in the elementary school shooting.
“My heart goes out to the families that are going through this. Unimaginable,” Radford said. “As a parent, I can’t imagine anything like that.”
The violence — causing worry among many parents, thinking about their student’s safety before they walk out the front door in the mornings.
“It’s scary because you’re just thinking — how do you prevent it? What do you do to stop it?” Radford said. It makes you feel kind of helpless and vulnerable.”
Rayphel Cox is a rising senior, and says that sentiment is also felt by students.
“School should be a place you feel safe,” Cox said. “And seeing all these things happening at school, it makes people kind of nervous to go to school.”