The state of Florida launched the Office of Safe Schools within the Department of Education three years ago to determine the best practices to ensure Florida’s schools remain safe in the years following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The office is scheduled to sunset in July 2023, and the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission is concerned about the office going forward regarding personnel and safe plans not being executed.
“Is the Office of Safe Schools, which is charged with being the trainer, providing technical assistance, being the subject-matter expert, developing a relationship with the schools and getting with the districts and helping them, the right entity also to inspect them, oversee them and enforce where it’s necessary?” asked Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “And I guess I say all that to say, I have concerns about that.”
In a panel meeting on Monday this week, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen asked the office’s executive director if his 18 employees can bear the burden.
“We’re very grateful for the 10 positions that the … Florida Department of Education found internally to provide some additional support to the office. And we’re going to be as strategic as we can with those positions and our processes to make the most of what we have,” said Office of Safe Schools Executive Director Tim Hay.
Gualtieri interjected and said Hay’s response was the polite answer but felt the real answer to Swearingen’s question was “hell no.” He also noted that additional oversight into the school safety plans is a must.
“What all of this tells me is there has to be ongoing oversight to provide the right amount of accountability,” Gualtieri continued. “If this commission didn’t exist, if I didn’t make that call in August, would they have a reunification policy today? No. It would be sitting in a drawer someplace.
The reunification plan Gualtieri referenced was a policy proposed by the Broward County School District to reunify surviving students to their parents if another mass shooting occurred in a Broward school. The plan, allegedly, had not been formulated until Gualtieri called the school district and inquired into the nonexistent plan.
Another safety initiative is the implementation of Alyssa’s Law, which is a state funded initiative for silent panic alarms on an app for students and on-campus staff to use if there is an intruder. While seeing successful usage in some instances, only 18 percent of Broward teachers have downloaded the app.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Sheriff Bob Gualtieri” by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Background Photo “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Sign” by Rally at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. CC BY 2.0.