School districts in South Florida are increasing their police presence at schools this week in light of the Connecticut massacre Friday that left 28 dead, including 20 elementary students.
Photographer: Courtesy CNN
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- School districts in Palm Beach and Broward counties are increasing their police presence at schools this week in light of the Connecticut massacre Friday that left 28 dead, including 20 elementary students.
Each district will also keep grief counselors and school psychologists on hand to support students and staff. Schools were asked to fly their flags at half staff and, in Palm Beach County, teachers were reminded to keep their classroom doors locked. Broward will hold a moment of silence for victims Tuesday at 10:15 a.m.
But questions remained on whether the additional school-based officers would become a permanent addition.
"We've got to wait until we get more information and know all the dynamics that happened," said Palm Beach School Board member Chuck Shaw. "If there's a need, we'll have to find a way make it happen."
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said such a decision would have to be made in partnership with local municipalities "to try to come up with long term solutions on funding.''
Several districts have reduced the number of school resource officers in recent years as a budget measure. Broward cut 33 school officers since 2006, mostly in elementary schools, according to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who co-chairs a School Resource Task Force for the Broward League of Cities.
Parents have mixed reactions to an increased police presence.
"It should definitely be permanent," said parent Alison Weinstein Rice, of Boynton Beach. "We spend millions of dollars a year protecting our president with our tax dollars. Aren't our children just as precious?"
But Sunrise parent Roseanne Eckert said more police could have a negative impact.
"It is unlikely that an increase in police presence will stop another madman from hurting or killing some of our children. But it is very likely that those officers will arrest and/or taser many children for engaging in normal childhood mischief," she said.
The Palm Beach School district received a flood of calls Monday from concerned parents and were working to assure them their kids were safe, spokeswoman Natalia Arenas said.
At Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, the school's principal sent an email to parents with new security measures that will take place Tuesday. They include locking the student gate all day, preventing students from going into the guest parking lot to change classes, and requiring volunteers to wear identification badges.
Yet some parents said despite the spotlight on school safety, clear gaps still exist.
Patricia Mauldin lives near Deerfield Beach Middle School and said the school's side entrance stayed wide open all morning. "It's just terrifying. What if my son did go to that school and something happened?" said Mauldin, who took a photo that showed the side gate open around 8:30 a.m.
The school's students have been the subject of violence in recent years, including the 2009 burning of Michael Brewer and the 2010 stomping of then 15-year-old Josie Lou Ratley by teenager Wayne Treacy.
District spokeswoman Tracy Clark said she couldn't speak to specifics but said the district was working to optimize security in all the schools and had sent principals reminders to review their safety plans.
Yet parent Maria Roman said when she arrived at Hallandale Elementary School on Monday morning, there was no police car and "the gate to go through the school was open wide."
The school parking lot was unusually empty, she said.
For parent Mike Howard, of Jupiter, Monday was just like any other day. He said he understood the shooting spree was random.
"The security at that school was very similar to the ones we have here ... it did what it was supposed to do. That person was determined to get around it and there's not much you can do to protect against that," he said.
Other parents said this was the time for schools to revisit school-wide emergency drills.
Lisa Marton, a parent of three in Boca Raton, said schools need to educate students on what to do if there's a threat. "You have to be dead silent, that should be part of the drill," she said.
Teacher Donna Shubert at McNab Elementary School in Pompano Beach said her biggest worry Monday was how much her kindergartners knew about the tragedy.
"It was really great to know they had been shielded from it," she said. "We have security measures and we've been told what to do for years. I wasn't worried about safety; I was worried about the kids."
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