South Florida school districts react to Connecticut shooting


By: Colleen Wixon, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

As news of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting spread across the country, Treasure Coast educators assessed their own procedures designed to keep children safe while in school.

Two parents called the Indian River County Schools Superintendent's office asking whether schools were in lockdown, said Denise Roberts, director of risk management for the district. Neither Indian River, nor any other Treasure Coast district, went into lockdown.

St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent Michael Lannon sent a recorded message to all parents Friday night asking them to reassure their children. The message also assured parents the St. Lucie district's plans would be reviewed next week.

"The incident is so tragic, it's simply evil and my heart breaks for the families," Lannon said in an email to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

"Parents cannot assure their children's safety at home anymore than we can at school yet parents and schools and society plan and prepare for the unthinkable all the time. Seems like from Columbine to 9-11 we have been in the business of emergency plans on a constant basis," Lannon said.

Officials from each district say they have plans in place for these and other types of emergency "Code Red" situations. Districts train and practice emergency plans, joining law enforcement to keeps schools safe.

"We may not ever (short of an enclosed bubble), be able to say with absolute certainty that all can be protected all of the time from evil-minded people intent upon harming others. But we can and do plan at school and with law enforcement and other agencies to make school the safest place in America for our children ... even in spite of such tragedy as we see today in Connecticut," Lannon said.

Indian River principals and district officials plan to reassess their emergency plans, Roberts said.

When something like this happens, educators automatically go on alert, Roberts said.

"You don't want to overreact, but you don't want to under react," she said.

Campus visitors are required to sign in at the office, Roberts said. Most of the district's elementary campuses are locked so they can be entered only through the front office, she said. Teachers and staff also make sure visitors are identified, she said."They're overly cautious on a daily basis," Roberts said.

In Martin County, district spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan said every school in the district has a crisis plan and staff gets training every year. Schools regularly practice procedures for lockdowns, evacuations and other emergency situations, she said in an email.

"The safety of our students and staff is always our highest priority," Brennan said.


Scott Travis , Sun Sentinel

School violence has been a reality for years in South Florida, but the magnitude of Friday's massacre in Connecticut has astounded educators and local officials.

Following the shootings at Newtown elementary school, South Florida officials say they plan to review their security procedures.

"I believe this incident will probably cause a lot of conversations, not just in the school communities, but the communities at large," said Tracy Clark, spokeswoman for Broward County Public Schools. "We continuously review our school safety plans, and we will continue to do so."

Since most violent incidents have been on the high school or middle school level, few elementary schools in Broward or Palm Beach counties have full-time police officers. Broward County has 33 fewer such officers than it did in 2006, a reduction almost entirely on the elementary school level, said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who co-chairs a School Resource Task Force for the Broward League of Cities.

Each school has an emergency plan, and procedures vary depending on the type of incident. It could involve evacuations or lockdowns. Broward and Palm Beach counties have robo-call systems to notify parents.

Palm Beach Superintendent Wayne Gent said he doesn't know if any major security changes would be made. He said every school now has a single access point, so outsiders can't get to the larger campus without being buzzed in.

"I think we have a really good system in place," he said. "You always want to upgrade with what the latest information is."

The Broward Teachers Union has offered to work with school and community officials to ensure students and employees are safe, President Sharon Glickman said.

"As school and community members, we must all work together to remain vigilant in making sure our schools remain safe havens," she said. "Especially during this holiday season, our prayers go out to all of the victims and their families."