After Parkland, school officials around the state, including in Charlotte County, looked inward and asked: What can we do to keep our kids safer?
For this 2018-2019 school year, Charlotte County received $1,009,525 from the Florida Safe Schools allocation to use toward safety improvements.
The district used a portion of the money to add additional guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers. Some of the professionals have two schools, so the district works to spread them out as much as they can, so they can see as many students as possible.
At the beginning of the school year, Charlotte schools installed video doorbells at the entrance of every school, at a cost of $343,000. Visitors must ring the doorbell and show ID before they can enter.
Once inside the front office, the visitor’s license is scanned to see if they are a registered sex offender, or a noncustodial parent, said district spokesperson Mike Riley. Before entering the hallways, the visitor must once again be buzzed through the doors that lead to the classrooms.
The state launched the anonymous reporting app, FortityFL, where students and parents can report suspicious activity or persons. The app is available in the Apple Store, Google Play, or online at GetFortifyFL.com.
The School Board strengthened its zero tolerance policy to include threats and false reports after several incidents panicked parents and students. All zero tolerance offenses are recommended to the superintendent for expulsion, which he will review on a case-by-case basis. The superintendent may then proceed with expulsion, or recommend the student to a disciplinary program or alternative setting.
The district is still reviewing recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission report.
“It’s not one-size-fits-all. There are a number of school districts in high-crime areas, their needs are going to be different than ours,” said Riley.
School Board Chairman Bob Segur decided not to include the report on a recent School Board meeting agenda to keep safety matters confidential.
The Sun asked school officials and administrators what they thought was the biggest impact Parkland had on our district. Here’s what they said:
Kim Amontree, Charlotte County School Board Member, District 1: "It's changed how we view things. In the past, we though education was the most important thing we do every day. We realize keeping children safe is the most important thing we do everyday... The addition of social workers, counselors, will go a lot further than hardening measures. The most important thing we can do is make sure students are mentally healthy... Being in our schools and seeing the adult problems our students cope with... Students need a lot more time than what our counselors, who have 400 students, can give them. We have to do what we can to make sure what happened in Parkland, doesn't happen here."
Michael Desjardins, Executive Director of Student Services: "It unfortunately brought safety and security to the forefront without a shadow of a doubt. The state of Florida finally realized they have to invest in students' mental health. Mental health is a true investment."
Michelle Wier, Principal of Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School: "I have reflected on school safety prior to the Parkland incident and believe the most significant shift I am seeing is the increased collaboration between the school system and law enforcement. For example, members of CCSO and PGPD are providing on-going training's for school personnel and contributing much more with our crisis plans and monthly crisis drills. As a school administrator, I value the working relationship with law enforcement to keep our students and staff safe. In addition, I see community organizations and businesses stepping up to work with our schools such as the Suncoast Disaster Coalition working with local agencies and hospitals to provide 'Stop the Bleed' training and classroom kits throughout the school district."