Fortifying school campuses: How much is done?

Posted at 10:29 AM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 10:29:02-05

How much as security improved at your child's school? You may have noticed you can't pick children up early without presenting a valid ID. And there’s only one way in to every school. Those are just some of the big changes schools have made to fortify their campuses with state dollars.

All schools in our five-county area have a school resource officer on campus and a single point of entry. What varies is the technology available to staff to see who is trying to enter the school.

“The biggest challenge that we will face are the dollars to be able to implement these initiatives,” said Okeechobee County School District Superintendent Ken Kenworthy.

Okeechobee County School District received $200 thousand from the state to fortify its campuses last year and the majority, Superintendent Kenworthy says went to fencing. “Those dollars went quick, you know very quickly and we could use three times that much to really be able to address our needs."

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Last year superintendents were left scratching their heads, so to speak, trying to figure out how $99 million was going to all 67 districts to fortify campuses. The Palm Beach County School District identified $20 million needed during school threat assessments. The district got $6 million. Martin County found its upgrade would cost $15 million, but only got $1.1 million.

“I think we're all doing the best that we can,” said Martin County School District Superintendent Laurie Gaylord.

St. Lucie County has been working on installing gates and doors that remained locked from the outside.

“We have different layers of security when it comes to fencing, perimeter fencing, interior fencing, hallways and gates. We've tried to secure the area that our students and then work out way out,” said Indian River County School District Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jon Teskie.

Districts are also working on adding more cameras to exteriors and gates that lead to the single point of entry.

“What we would like to get to is an electronic gate that has a camera focused on it so that we can see who is entering into or who is trying to enter our campus,” said Kenworthy.

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Martin County’s school district has installed panic buttons at its schools that directly alert the sheriff's office in an emergency. Some schools in St Lucie and Indian River counties have doors that can be remotely locked. The challenge for most districts is retrofitting older schools.

“Our newer schools were designed more from a safety and security standpoint, but our older schools are more open campuses. The challenges there, there's more land and more space that students occupy that have to be secured,” said Teskie.

Law enforcement and school administration partnerships have strengthened. School resource officers are receiving more training.

“We train our officers for single officer response. They are not waiting for a backup. We train them in the tactics. Some catastrophic event were to happen at a school, they're moving down the hall,” said Palm Beach County School District Police Chief Frank Kitzerow.

But superintendents don’t want parents and students to get complacent.

“I don’t want it to be an illusion for people, ‘oh there’s a deputy there,' ” said Gaylord.

Every district continues to stress this message: If you see something, say something.

“It’s not an if an incident might happen on a school campus, it’s when and I just want to assure everyone that we are committed to keeping our campuses safe,” said St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.