LABELLE — Members of the Hendry County School Board spoke about safety procedures already in place and measures being taken to improve students’ safety at the School Safety Forum on Monday, April 9.
“I’m the first superintendent in Hendry County history that actually has to worry about children being murdered,” said Superintendent Paul Puletti. “I’m dreading the time something happens where children are murdered on school grounds.”
Mr. Puletti said that, according to the state, school districts can choose to have school resource officers at every school, have a police officer who is part of a municipal police department at every school, or institute a Guardian Program.
“We’ve had school resource officers in every school since 2012, and we have one municipal police department that’s in Clewiston,” said Mr. Puletti. “The state says if the sheriff, county and superintendent want to participate in the Guardian Program, they can.”
The school district is going to write a school safety plan, Mr. Puletti said, “probably in December,” depending on how money is allocated. The Guardian Program is the one program that is “going to cost us nothing,” he said. “The program is fully funded through the school safety grant and allocations,” he added.
Lucinda Kelley, deputy superintendent for continuous improvement, human resources and operations, spoke about “hardening our schools” and prevention measures that will be in place as of the 2018-19 school year.
“Hardening our schools is a hard thing. Our buildings were built before we thought anything like Columbine was possible,” said Ms. Kelley. “We have our work cut out for us and we are very committed to doing that.”
Prevention measures include an app on students’ Chromebooks or phone, so they can notify school administrators of a suspected threat, and adding additional staff members who are licensed mental health professionals to care for students in need of mental health services.
“I assure you, we are working very hard on the prevention piece and we will give you updates as we go,” Ms. Kelley added.
Dr. Robert Egley, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, spoke about the safety measures put in place since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Dr. Egley said gates are the first exterior defense the schools have. “We are trying to get some gates that need to have a key code punched in for them to open,” said Dr. Egley. Many schools have shatterproof glass and hurricane shutters that “reduce a shooter’s chance to be able to break the glass and unlock the door.”
Safety procedures already in place are making sure teachers lock their doors, checking visitors’ identification, revising exit routes for evacuations, having multiple exit strategies, having cameras in the building and using the public address system.
Dr. Egley said students may carry only clear backpacks so people can see what students have inside. He said that if there is “reasonable suspicion” someone is carrying something in their band instrument case or softball case, it will be searched.
“By far, one of the most powerful preventions are people that call us at school and notify us of a student carrying a weapon,” Dr. Egley said. “Hardening our schools involves parents, teachers, law enforcement, administration and the transportation department,” he added.