Metal detectors will be at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High this fall, and a new schools safety report recommends adding them at all Broward County schools.
The recommendation is one of 100 ways to help keep students alive outlined by a task force created in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre.
Other ideas in the 93-page report include adding more mental health counselors, reviewing the district’s PROMISE program and ensuring discipline is being enforced consistently. Recommendations for physical security changes include installing higher fences and considering bullet-resistant glass.
“We haven’t really focused on school hardening. That’s what we need to do to protect our children,” said task force member Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas. “Until we do that, children will continue to die in our classrooms.”
The district sent a letter to Stoneman Douglas parents Friday saying that the district will start using portable metal detectors at the Parkland school this fall. Originally planned to start shortly after spring break, district officials said they needed more time to figure out logistical issues of how many gates would be open and how to avoid having lines that snake outside at the start of the school day.
The task force “strongly recommends” that the district consider metal detectors countywide but also said there may be some challenges to ensure they’re being used consistently and fairly.
“The physical deployment of these must be uniform across the district,” the report says, recommending the district study how the detectors are used in other districts with large schools. The report said the district should come up with procedures to check students, while showing respect for their privacy and personal belongings.
Conducting random searches with wands could raise concerns about effectiveness and fairness, the report says.
The task force, commissioned by the League of Cities, included Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, Broward County Mayor Beam Furr, School Board member Patti Good and April Schentrup and Schachter, who both lost children in the massacre. Schachter was part of a group that traveled to Indiana to visit a school that has been dubbed the “safest school in America.”
The task force met 10 times and came up with its initial list of recommendations in time for the school district and other government agencies to include proposals in the upcoming budget year. Some recommendations may be refined as new information comes out from other investigations, Ryan said.
The committee plans to lobby the state for more money.
“It’s a constitutional obligation and a constitutional right of students, family members, teachers and staff to have safe and secure schools,” Ryan said.
Good said the school district has received the report and the School Board is considering a joint meeting with the task force to discuss what can be done.
Among the other recommendations:
— The district should install window coverings on doors to conceal kids in schools.
— The height of outdoor fences should be increased.
— More mental health counselors, psychologist and social workers are needed who can focus on students’ well-being instead of on testing. Better marketing of mental health services is also recommended.
— The county needs to find a better way to pay for school resource officers. Right now, the school district pays $46,000, and cities or the Broward Sheriff’s Office pays the remaining costs, which some cities say is $100,000 or more. Cities decide how many officers to pay for, which has left 35 schools without any police officers. The report recommends the school district increase its share and also recommends finding dedicated funding so disparities won’t exist between cities.
— School safety plans should be updated by schools in the first month of classes. The plans should be delivered to municipal law enforcement who should acknowledge the review.
— All classroom doors must remain locked at all times (the current doors only lock from the hallway, not from inside of classroom).
— Within the first two weeks of school, schools should practice a lockdown drill with school resource officer participation, in addition to fire and tornado drills, and a Code Red (critical incident) drill every semester.
— All staff and students should wear ID badges, something that is already district policy but irregularly enforced.
— School administrators need to ensure they are enforcing discipline rules appropriately. “While there is certainly a defined process for discipline, it was reported that some individual participants in (Broward schools) may have a real or perceived incentive to underreport or not impose consequences. The task force was unanimous that such incentives need to be eliminated and audits need to be performed to make sure the discipline process is being followed with fidelity.” Questions have arisen about whether the shooter at Stoneman Douglas was appropriately disciplined for various infractions. The district has already announced plans to start reviewing discipline enforcement as part of regular school audits.
— The district’s PROMISE program should be reviewed to better track repeat offenders. The program, which stands for Preventing Recidivism Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education, was created in 2013 to provide alternatives to arrests. The district has claimed a nearly 90 percent success rate, but the South Florida Sun Sentinel discovered that students are not considered repeat offenders unless they commit the exact same offense in the exact same year.
— Student information should be shared between the district’s PROMISE program and the Broward Sheriff Office’s Civil Citation program. Offenses committed at school and in the community are generally considered separate so neither agency has the student’s full history. The school district has agreed to discuss sharing information at a June 19 meeting.
— School staff must supervise all open entrances during school starting and closing times.
— All classrooms should have an intercom button and landline phone to alert school/office of critical incidents in the building. If they do not have these, they should have a radio/walkie-talkie to communicate with school/office. Many portable classrooms have no intercom systems.
— After school, sports or summer activities must have a security plan in place, with safety responsibilities assigned to a specific trained staff member.
— All public areas should be monitored by cameras.
— Schools should have a buzzer system to better control access to visitors.
© 2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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