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What new school safety law means for South Florida students

HB 1421 requires family reunification plans, crisis intervention training for officers
A Palm Beach County school police officer walks the halls of a school during the 2021-22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 18:18:02-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — WPTV is taking a deeper dive into the state of Florida's new school safety laws designed to keep your children protected.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed in law HB 1421, which includes both safety and mental health requirements for public schools in Florida.

One of those requirements involves school districts having a board-approved reunification plan in case of an emergency.

WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind found that some of our area school districts already have several of the new requirements in place as they work to constantly improve security.

The Martin County School District put an evacuation and reunification system in place for emergencies well before it became a requirement in the new school safety law.

Martin County students take part in an evacuation and reunification drill in October of 2021.jpg
Martin County students take part in an evacuation and reunification drill in October of 2021.

"We saw a need to try to improve what is the norm around the country. So we kind of took it a step further," said Frank Frangella, the director of safety and security for the Martin County School District.

The system Frangella put in place involves students swiping their identification cards if they have to evacuate for an emergency.

A student swipes an identification card on a Martin County school bus in October of 2021.jpg
A student swipes an identification card on a Martin County school bus in October of 2021.

"It tells me, number one, that they are on the bus and safe and going to our reunification site," Frangella said. "We can pull that information and send it to the parents, in hoping to get that message to parents quicker."

"Reunification is an important part of [HB 1421]. After the events in Parkland, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission really called out the piece that followed. And there was just so much going on and it just took so long. And so they were really looking to deal with that in this bill," said David Rogers with Raptor Technologies, a company that provides safety software for school districts, including Palm Beach County.

Rogers agrees the reunification step is an important part of the process.

Martin County students take part in an evacuation and reunification drill in October of 2021 (1).jpg
Martin County students take part in an evacuation and reunification drill in October of 2021.

"Florida is really ahead of the curve in terms of proactively addressing a lot of the school safety issues," Rogers said. "Unfortunately, a lot of times it takes an event to make things happen."

Other provisions of the new law include:

  • Requiring school police officers to complete crisis intervention training
  • Authorizing Florida's education commissioner to enforce safety compliance and set rules for emergency drills
  • Requiring school districts have at least 80% of school personnel receive youth mental health awareness training as of July 2023

Speaking in Fort Myers Beach on Wednesday, DeSantis doubled down on Florida's commitment to school safety.

"If you are one of these nutjobs, if you try that, just know you are going to end up on your ass," DeSantis said. "And it's not going to end up being pretty and you are not going to walk out of there alive."

WATCH GOVERNOR'S COMMENTS:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about school security

Frangella said he reviews the safety legislation with law enforcement before it even goes up for a vote. And if it makes sense, he implements it as soon as possible.

"We'll never say it's over and we've done everything. We'll just keep going," Frangella said.

The new law also extends the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission to 2026 to continue monitoring how school saftey rules are implemented.

A spokeswoman for St. Lucie Public Schools said the district has a reunification plan in place as part of its Emergency Management Plan, and school administrators receive ongoing training on reunification.

The district has trained approximately 3,000 staff members on youth mental health awareness and "are well on our way to meet this requirement by July 1, 2023."

In addition, all school resource officers in St. Lucie Public Schools are sworn law enforcement officers and have received youth mental health training. The district said it "will continue to do so as required."

The district said it's also in compliance with the new law by utilizing the Columbia Suicide Severity Scale, "which is the same suicide screening tool used by the local mobile response teams and approved by [the Florida Department of Education]," a spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the School District of Indian River County said the district is "making Mental Health Awareness training a top priority," and will provide youth mental health instructor training for staff members in late June.

In addition, all school resource officers will receive mental health awareness training in August, which will serve as a recertification for most of them.

"Moving forward into the next school year we will offer [youth mental health] trainings on every school based professional development day available," said Cristen Maddux, the public information officer for the School District of Indian River County. "At the conclusion of next year, it is our goal to have trained 100% of our staff."

The district said it also has a reunification plan in place within its Emergency Management Plan, and that plan has been provided to Indian River County charter schools.

"Charter schools may choose to use/adopt our EMP plan or use their own. Our family reunification plan locations and procedures encompass charter schools as well," Maddux said.

The Okeechobee County School District said each of its 10 schools have reunification plans and its school resource officers participate in the required youth mental health training.

A spokesperson said the district will meet the requirement by July 1, 2023 to have at least 80% of school personnel receive youth mental health awareness training.

The district also uses a Florida Department of Education approved suicide screening tool, SAFE-T Protocol with the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale.

WPTV contacted the School District of Palm Beach County to learn more about its school safety measures related to the new law, but has not heard back.