The first day of school for Highlands County students is Monday, Aug. 12. While students may have had the last few months off, there have been a lot of things going on during the summer break to help make the new school year a safe one for everybody.

Some of those things will be immediately noticeable when you drop your kids off at school the first day. The School Board of Highlands County has been working hard to install new fencing that will offer better campus control. These fences make it more difficult for unauthorized people to access areas of the campus where students and staff are concentrated. The high schools also now have guard shacks at the gate to help monitor and control vehicles coming in and out of the campus during the day.

Our school resource deputies didn’t have much of a summer break. In addition to covering schools that were active during summer school, the SRD Unit:

•● held two active shooter training drills (one at Hill-Gustat Middle School and the other at Sebring Middle School);

•● spent a day at the range training for single-person response to an active shooter;

•● attended the Florida Association of School Resource Officers seminar for legal updates and training on the latest school safety measures;

•● attended a threat assessment training with school board staff; and

•● assisted the School Board with school safety training videos.

If you are driving in the early morning or mid-afternoon times, please be on the lookout for active school zones, as well as students and school buses. If you are near a school, be aware that students will be walking to or from school. Some of them will be walking to their school or bus stop for the first time and may not be aware of the best places to cross streets. Even if you don’t go near a school, be mindful of students waiting at bus stops.

A new law that went into effect July 1 will also hopefully make our students safer. Part of the new texting and driving law makes it a violation to have a mobile device in your hand (either texting or talking on the phone) while driving in a school zone or school crossing (it applies in construction zones, too).

Deputies will be doing targeted enforcement in school zones once the school year starts, looking for violators of the new law. We will also be looking for anyone speeding in a school zone or anyone who doesn’t stop for a school bus that has its lights engaged while dropping off or picking up students. Those two infractions will get you a very costly ticket. The only time you don’t have to stop for a school bus is when you are on the other side of a divided highway, such as U.S. 27 or the Sebring Parkway.

I know that the first days of school are an exciting and sometimes stressful time for parents, teachers and students. Hopefully, knowing that law enforcement and the School Board are doing everything we can to keep your children safe will help relieve some of that stress.

Have a great school year, everyone!

Paul Blackman is the Highlands County sheriff. Email him at pblackman@highlandssheriff.org Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.

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