Summer break is coming to a close and soon schools will be back in session. But clothes and supplies won’t be the only new things students will notice on their first day back: Armed security guards, local police officers, and Student Crime Watch Programs will be as common in schools as lockers and backpacks.
After 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, Florida lawmakers passed legislation to address campus safety concerns that will go into effect in school districts across the state this fall.
Since the Parkland shooting, debates spurred around the country about the best course of action to ensure the safety of children in public schools in a time where, according to researchers, the number of school shootings is increasing.
Gov. Rick Scott signed SB7026, also known as the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” which established restrictions on access to guns and also allocated $99 million for enhancing school security and $97.5 million for resource officers among many other safety measures.
Each district has tailored their own gun safety plans according to their available resources. Hillsborough County Public Schools communications department manager Tanya Arja says that HCPS has been working with local law enforcement partners on a security plan. While for the past 49 years the county has had resource officers in schools, the district will receive about $9 million from the state this year as part of the Safe Schools Allocation to hire 155-160 new school security officers.
“In our middle and high schools, students, staff and parents will continue to see a school resource deputy or officer from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police Department,” Arja said. “Starting new this school year, there will be an armed school security officer at every elementary school.”
In Leon County, Tallahassee Police Department declined the district’s offer of $1 million of its $1.3 million safe school allocation to place TPD officers in elementary schools.
Districts like Hernando County are also looking to ramp up their number of SROs, but still haven’t come up with a way to pay for it.
The Dade County School Board passed a resolution to put a measure on the Nov. 6 election ballot that will create additional funding for school safety measures in the form of raising property taxes.
Board members were split on how to appropriate the new funds. Steve Gallon III, Dade County board member, said that teacher salaries should be the priority.
“Pre-Parkland, this conversation has been about teacher salaries,” Gallon said. “Post-Parkland, about the enhancement of our school security staff.”