As our hearts still ache for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community, the School District of Palm Beach County continues to study the details from the Parkland tragedy to identify opportunities to improve the safety of our campuses.
As educators, we know the importance of safety and security in our schools. Students can’t focus on learning if they don’t feel safe. While we may not be able to share every aspect of our security plans with the public, I am committed to keeping our community informed to the fullest extent possible.
Here are some steps our district is taking to improve safety and security at our schools:
• At the beginning of April, a team of professionals representing large urban districts from across the country visited district schools, conducted interviews and reviewed our security protocols. I’ve asked them to identify the things that the district is doing well, as well as areas for improvement. The findings of this visit are expected in the next month.
• Prior to spring break, all secondary schools, in addition to elementary school campuses that do not yet have single points of entry, were authorized to hire a temporary position to assist with monitoring school entries, parking lots or other areas identified by the principal.
• The district facilities team has created safe rooms in schools where students would have historically had to enter a hallway to seek shelter in a locked classroom. New doors and locksets have also been installed for classrooms that did not have a locking mechanism. The facilities team continues to expedite work orders to ensure that every teacher is able to lock the classroom door.
• The School District Police Department and staff from the Operations Division continue to identify projects that will occur when students are off campuses for the summer. Thanks to the community’s generous support of the penny sales tax, schools were scheduled to receive $40 million of security improvements over the next few years. The School Board has directed this work to be accelerated wherever possible, and we are working aggressively to do so.
• The StudentProtect app, a new app that allows students, parents and staff to report threats and suspicious activity directly to local law enforcement, has launched as a collaboration between the School District of Palm Beach County, the School District Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The app has the ability for the user to dial 911 and have the exact GPS location of their mobile device sent to first responders.
• Senate Bill 7026 will provide resources to expand mental health services to students, as well as provide an officer in every school. While the district ramps up efforts to recruit and hire 75 additional school police officers, we have asked our many partner law enforcement agencies to assist us with covering campuses until new officers are in place. When schools begin next August, every campus will have a police presence.
It goes without saying, however, that the safety of our schools, and even our neighborhoods spaces, is a community effort. Our best defenses are inevitably in a strong community commitment to keep our eyes open to at-risk behaviors, inappropriate conversations or social media posts, and to alert officials when a concern arises. In a society that prides itself on minding its own business, we have to be willing to step across our fences to say something if we see something, and to ask for help where we see help is needed.
Palm Beach County has a long-standing history of supporting its children. It is my hope that the heightened sense of awareness that the Parkland tragedy has created becomes an enduring awareness used to advance our work around community safety, mental health services and accessibility, and building strong communities.
Dr. Donald E. Fennoy II, Superintendent of Schools, The School District of Palm Beach County