New school safety measures arise after latest shooting

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

New school safety measures in Central Florida are rolling out after a gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas early Friday morning, killing eight students and two teachers. Ten others were wounded.

Santa Fe was at least the 20th incident in 2018 in which someone was injured with a firearm on the campus of a U.S. school.

The slaying comes three months after an active shooter killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, sparking student-led protests and rallies nationwide.

The suspect in Texas was identified as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, who was taken into custody by authorities.

In response to the shooting in Texas, officials in Polk and Seminole counties announced that students will be prohibited from bringing backpacks to school. Officials haven’t said yet whether the backpack ban will extend into next school year.

In Osceola County, security measures during the final days of class were up to the discretion of the school, according to District Public Information Officer Dana Schafer.

As authorities in Texas grapple with the country’s most recent mass shooting, counties across Florida are preparing to receive millions of state dollars meant to improve school security measures.

The funds are part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a $400 million measure signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott two months ago following the shooting in Parkland.

The law sets aside over $98 million in grants to help districts improve the hardening and physical security of school buildings.

Schafer said a group of community leaders would meet to determine the best way to use the school hardening funds it receives later this year.

“We are currently working with the three law enforcement agencies and the schools to complete a security risk assessment for each campus by the deadline to determine how to spend the money,” Schafer said.

The security risk assessments will determine needs based on available funding, she said.

The new law also sets aside more than $69 million to fund the mental health assistance allocation.

The funds are meant to assist school districts in establishing or expanding school-based mental health care, which can include hiring more psychiatrists and social workers.

The mental health allocation is part of next year’s budget and will be released upon approval of a district plan filed with the Florida Department of Education. Schafer said the district doesn’t have any dollars in hand at the moment from this allocation.

The new law puts several additional mandates on school districts across the state, according to a press release from the Florida Senate. Those mandates include:

Each district school board and school district superintendent must cooperate with law enforcement agencies to assign one or more safe-school officers at each school facility. The safe-school officer requirement can be satisfied by appointing any combination school resources officer, school safety officers, or school guardians.

Requires each district school board to designate a district school safety specialist to serve as the district’s primary point of public contact for public school safety functions.

Requires each school district to designate school safety specialists and a threat assessment team at each school, and requires the team to operate under the district school safety specialist’s direction.

Requires the DOE to contract for the development of a Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool, which will assist school districts in conducting security assessments to identify threats and vulnerabilities.

The law also requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to procure a mobile app that would allow students and the community to relay information anonymously concerning unsafe, dangerous threats.