How is Duval County’s half-cent tax being used for security, safety at schools amid recent deadly shooting?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Monday’s devastating attack at a Christian school in Nashville, News4JAX is looking at how Duval County schools have been working to bolster safety and security at its campuses.

Duval County residents voted in favor of a half-cent tax in 2020 that would support public school improvements and fund new school buildings, address back-logged maintenance and facility upgrades and expansions.

In the first three years of its existence, the half-cent tax is supposed to fund safety and security projects across the district. Since it was passed, it has collected more than $220 million and as of the latest update from the district, roughly $78 million of that is already spent or designated for safety and security upgrades.

One of the measures that the district has made standard across schools is identification-controlled door access systems or controlled access entrances.

The WJXT studios have the same kind. It’s the type of entrance where someone has to pass through one door, then pass through a second secured access that has to be either opened with a special pass or opened by a staff member, which is to prevent no one from entering without permission.

Still, security concerns have become heightened following this week’s shooting that left three children and three adults dead at The Covenant School because the shooter was able to shoot their way through the glass of a side entrance and gain access to the building.

Though Tennessee public schools are required to submit a safety plan to their district, private schools are exempt from many of those safety requirements.

Other safety improvements that have been funded by the sales tax include adding impact-resistant film over the windows, which makes them tougher to break. Installing bollards, which are vertical posts meant to direct traffic and prevent vehicles from being driven onto the campus, improving interior and exterior lighting, updating landscaping to cut back trees and shrubbery to increase visibility, upgrading door locks and improving fencing and gates.

Hank Rogers, chair of the half-cent sales tax oversight committee, said the committee intends to keep a promise to have all the safety and security projects completed within the first three years of the tax’s life, which is by the end of the year.

“At this current time, we believe that the district is on track to meet those goals and to keep this promise to the committee. So we’re excited about that,” Rogers said.

District staff said they can’t get too specific about how security measures work due to concerns that it would be compromised, but they said the district has a multi-layered security strategy that includes efforts to identify threats before any kind of violence erupts.

One major difference between Nashville and Jacksonville is the guardian program, which places armed personnel in every school building in the district. It was a protocol adopted after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.