SARASOTA — If you’re planning on attending an upcoming Sarasota County School Board meeting, you will notice a major change at the door: bag checks and security wands.
The school board approved the motion to add these security measures by a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening, with board member Eric Robinson voting “no” to the proposed policy.
The use of security wands and bag checks will be done only at the Landings prior to the meetings. The security measures will help protect the board members, staff, speakers and members of the public attending the meetings.
It will cost $16.30 per hour to have a security officer use a wand and scan for weapons. It will be funded with the district’s safety and security budget, district spokesperson Kelsey Whealy said.
Board member Eric Robinson said he believes “wanding” may dissuade members of the public to come and speak at meetings out of fear.
“If you really believe in Black Lives Matter, things like ‘stop and frisk’ is chilling to Black Lives Matter,” Robinson said.
“To sit there and say at the meeting where a lot of people talked about Black Lives Matter, that the last thing we’re going to vote on is whether we’re going to have screening for those people, is pretty chilling, almost disgusting,” he continued.
Robinson voiced concerns that he thought the board was prioritizing the safety of board members over the safety of the children in the schools. He noted that there were more school resource officers present per person at the meeting, than they have at any school in the district.
“At no point tonight did I feel like somebody was going to pull out a gun or do anything of harm,” Robinson said. “I think it was just verbal ju-jitsu, and they have every right to do that.”
The other board members addressed the heightened tension is not just present in the board chambers, but around the country ahead of the presidential election.
Board chair Caroline Zucker acknowledged the tone in the community and across the nation is very upsetting right now.
“We’ve had a lot of modeling from Washington that’s not been helpful — I’ll leave it at that,” board member Jane Goodwin said, adding that she prays the vitriol will end after the election.
Goodwin said the district has upgraded and hardened security in all district buildings, besides the offices at The Landings, so acknowledged the policy is a good move. She added perhaps additional security measures at The Landings could be something the board can revisit in the future.
“As the groups coming to speak before us get larger and larger, I feel we do need some control outside,” Zucker added, noting that the security measures aren’t for a particular group of people, but to keep everyone safe.
Chief Tim Enos, head of the Sarasota County Schools Police Department, spearheaded the initiative, including helping to write the policy, staff the meetings, and find someone to implement the security measures at future meetings.
Zucker noted the board will typically know in advance about meetings that will attract a larger audience, based on the amount of emails the board receives.
The school board meets next at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 20 for workshops, with the board meeting to follow at 3 p.m.