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Securing our Schools: How Palm Beach County is working to protect children

Posted at 6:18 PM, Sep 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-28 19:58:59-04

From Parkland, to Sandy Hook to Columbine, the past two decades have brought significant change about the way our schools operate and the way in which we send our children to school.

Parkland prompted a state safety commission to investigate ways to improve school security. Our five part series “Securing Our Schools”, shares what the Palm Beach County School District is doing to keep students safe.

You can also stream Securing Our Schools on the WPTV app on Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Android TV.

School District police officers train year-round for nightmare scenarios that demand instant response. One way they prepare to protect students is through active shooter response training. We witnessed one drill at Palm Beach Central High School, where Training Officers critiqued School Police officer response to a threat.

“We don’t have a chance to get it wrong so we make sure they’re doing it right when they’re going through the training,” said Tactical Training Supervisor Sgt. Rob Katz. “You are there and those kids look at you and they are there and they know you are there to protect them,” added Palm Beach County School Police Officer Rick McDermott.

While training is essential, School Police realize protection begins with listening and learning in order to build a connection between officers and students. They teach communication, location and safety to be second nature.

“For them to be calm and know what they need to do under those circumstances. Location is not just where they are, but where a safe location is,” said Palm Beach County Police Officer Dane Pena.

The NYPD veteran says his goal is for the students to see him as a friend.

School police also strategize on how to stop school violence before it ever gets near your child’s school.

“If we do our job right, we may never arrive at the X,” said Palm Beach County School Police Chief Frank Kitzerow, pointing to a giant whiteboard.

It’s covered with the chief’s school security plan, starting with areas of prevention.

The “X” represents the day of a school shooting, a day he and his team work to avoid at all costs.“We spend a great deal of time in the areas of prevention, intervention and crime,” he went on to say.

Technology is a major part of keeping students safe. It puts eyes and information just about everywhere.

The Tactical Operations Center for Palm Beach County School Police puts more than 180 district campuses in one room.

Each School Officer ties into the real time links at the Ops Center. “We are able to essentially see what is happening across the entire county,” said Assistant Chief Dennis Weiner.

Additionally, technology allows students to have a direct line with law enforcement during an emergency. There are two apps that can help.

Fortify-FL allows students to report suspicious activity or danger at school directly to appropriate law enforcement. Student-Protect works in a similar way, but is specific to Palm Beach County Schools.

We have made great strides in school security in the past two decades, learning sad but important lessons about how to better protect our children. It is because of Parkland that every public school in the state must now have a security officer or trained guardian on campus.

Even so, a recent study showed nearly 60 percent of teenagers worry about the possibility of a shooting at their school. Twenty-five percent say they are “very worried”.

The strides being made in “Securing Our Schools” aim to bring those numbers down.