By Janet Bradley
On March 13 Gilchrist County School Officials, in conjunction with the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Department, presented the School Safety Plan during a Safety Workshop. The Board Room was packed with representatives from the Sheriff’s Department, Trenton Police Department, Emergency Management, county administrators, GCSD administrators, and parents.
Superintendent Rankin shared the current safety practices and procedures put in place since the Parkland incident. Superintendent Rankin and Sheriff Bobby Schultz shared some of the next steps in securing safety for the district’s schools.
Currently, the schools practice lock down drills twice each year, so students know what to do if in an emergency situation. Threat Assessment Teams review threats and determine credibility when there is a concern. Another precaution that is currently in place is classroom doors continue to be locked to provide security within the school. District and school administrators, along with Sheriff’s Department representatives and Emergency Management, attend an annual Safety Day each year to review procedures to follow in an emergency. Schools continue to coordinate with the Sheriff’s Department to identify students who may need screening to determine if a Baker Act is necessary. Counselors continue to play a key role and have suicide prevention and re-entry plans in place for at risk students, and a universal screener is also being used to identify extreme internal and external behaviors in order to provide intervention.
Since the Parkland incident, there has been an increased presence of law enforcement at each school campus. An additional armed School Resource Officer has been added, so there is a School Resource Officer on each campus. After an email threat in February, the schools were closed as a safety precaution. Sheriff Schultz stated, “I felt that was the best call, and I would recommend it again”. To ensure the campuses are safe and to screen for possible needs, the Sheriff’s Department walked through each school surveying the premises for any additional safety measures. A peer review of the campuses, which consisted of law enforcement from another district, was also performed to ensure nothing had been missed. Sheriff Schultz stated several times, “Safety of our schools is a number one priority. We want to keep our students safe”. The use of radios, cameras, procedures for locking doors, and security of classrooms has also been reviewed and updated. Student discipline involving threats has also been discussed as part of the safety procedures.
Next steps in maintaining safety will begin the week of March 19 and will include the Sheriff’s Department participating in Active Murder Training using the school campuses for the training. This will coincide with Spring Break and will not affect students. In April, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents will host a Mental Health Summit, and in May safety training will proceed with teachers and staff.
Some other considerations to keep the schools safe will be implementing the State Marshall Program where designated school employees would be armed. Included in Senate Bill 7026 is implementation of the State Marshall Program to aid in the prevention or abatement of active assailant incidents on school premises. Excluded from participating are individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers. This limitation does not apply to classroom teachers of Junior Officers’ Training Corps programs, a current service member or current or former law enforcement officer. To be part of the State Marshall Program, school employees who volunteer would hold a valid license to carry a concealed weapon, complete 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training, pass a psychological evaluation, pass initial, subsequent, and random drug tests, and complete twelve hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training.
ALICE Training is being considered, which provides individuals with the knowledge and skills to ensure their survival and minimize the loss of life in the event of an aggressive intruder. ALICE Training empowers individuals to participate in their own survival and lead others to safety.
Other considerations would include using newly allocated safe school funding and the two million dollars that Trenton High School may receive to further secure the schools with such items as fences, gates, and cameras.
The Gilchrist County School District will receive allocations of $502,589 to spend on the safety of the schools and to provide mental health services. The allocations are in two parts with $345,819 to be spent on school safety and $156,770 to be spent on mental health services. According to Senate Bill 7026, the mental health assistance allocation is created to provide funding to assist school districts in establishing or expanding school-based mental health care. The district will be required to submit a plan that is focused on delivering evidence-based mental health care treatment to children.
Each district will also designate a School Safety Specialist who must earn a certificate of completion from the School Safety Specialist Training provided by the Office of Safe Schools. This position will be responsible for the supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies, and procedures in the school district.
The school district will also have the opportunity to apply for a grant which will provide additional funds to improve security of school buildings as identified by a security risk assessment.
School Safety Plan Presented to School Board
By Janet Bradley