In the weeks leading up to school starting two weeks ago, school officials across the state have been preparing to comply with a new state law. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was passed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, FL, on Valentine’s Day of this year, and requires armed security on every public school campus.
The new law also comes as parents are reporting having more fear about sending their kids to school. Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International is a national professional organization for educators that has surveyed attitudes towards public education every year since 1969. This year’s poll finds that one in three parents fear for their child’s physical safety at school. PDK describes that as, “a sharp increase from 2013, when just 12 percent said they were fearful.”
In Pasco County, middle and high schools will continue to have Pasco Sheriff’s Office (PSO) deputies serving as school resource officers.
In addition, Pasco County Schools has hired school safety guards for all elementary schools, with each one carrying a gun and a Taser, as well as handcuffs.
Simple security precautions are being emphasized, such as locking gates and classroom doors, using scanning software to check for sexual offenders/predators, and making sure everyone who comes on campus goes through the office.
With the new school year just underway, we asked Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning to tell us more about the changes in school security, and what to expect at Wesley Chapel’s schools this year.
WCNN: Now that kids are back at school, what are they seeing and experiencing that is different from previous years?
Browning: The elementary students are seeing armed safety guards for the first time.
The guards will be easy to spot, because they’ll be wearing black polo shirts with our safety guard logo on the sleeve, and a vest with the word “Security” on the back. Students may not see any differences related to mental health services, but there will be a better coordinated effort to respond to students in crisis between the school, the district, law enforcement and community mental health partners.
We are adding social worker, psychologist and school nurse trainers to help school student services staff (members) respond to student mental health issues.
WCNN: Tell us more about the changes to the way that mental health is addressed in schools, and will students or teachers notice those changes?
Browning: Student mental health needs will be broken out into three tiers of support.
Tier 1 is universal prevention for all students. Tier 2 is supplemental/at-risk services involving early identification and social, emotional and behavioral interventions based on need.
Tier 3 is individualized, intensive counseling and intervention, including behavior support plans, intensive monitoring, and wraparound and crisis planning.
We are increasing the number of crisis intervention teams from four to five, increasing the number of trainers for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), creating a 3-year training plan, and expanding the use of social emotional learning in instructional practices.
In accordance with the new law, we also have revised our threat assessment procedures and coordinated threat assessments to include law enforcement.
We will have a new mental health managing entity, the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network (CFBHN), which will provide a project manager to manage mental health services and assist with data reporting.
We are implementing the Sandy Hook Promise: “Know the Signs” programs, and creating a Parent University and other parent training opportunities.
WCNN: What are your thoughts about the changes in school security mandated by the new state law?
Browning: They’re a good start. Without significant funding increases, though, it is difficult to implement all of the safety measures we would like to. We are working within our means to do everything we can to make our campuses as safe as possible.
WCNN: What is the benefit to students and schools of having armed security guards on elementary school campuses?
Browning: Elementary schools will have school safety guards trained by the Sheriff’s Office on campus. These men and women will provide a level of security that elementary schools have not had in the past. They will be visible at drop-offs in the morning and during dismissal. They will patrol the grounds to make sure doors and gates are locked, and to assure that everyone on campus is checked in and accounted for. They also will be a resource for students and staff, and will become part of the school community.
WCNN: With all of the continued growth in Wesley Chapel, what rezoning plans are in the works?
Browning: We don’t currently have any rezoning in the works.
WCNN: What is the current timeline for opening Cypress Creek Middle School and transitioning the current Middle/High School to a high school only?
Browning: Cypress Creek Middle School is scheduled to open in August 2020. The transition will occur at that time.
WCNN: Are there any other new schools proposed or under construction in Wesley Chapel?
Browning: We are working on a plan to build a technical high school in East-Central Pasco in the next five years.
WCNN: On a side note, can you explain why there is a transition to call substitute teachers “guest teachers” instead? Does that apply to all substitute teachers or only those in a certain category? Is it expected that staff and students will address these teachers as “guest teachers” and not refer to the more common “substitute?”
Browning: We have some really great subs and are hoping this will enhance their credibility and better demonstrate the scope and caliber of their service to kids in classrooms….as opposed to the “just a sub” mentality.
We’ve also moved to professional guest teachers (formerly “professional subs”) as well as the daily and long-term guest teachers. All students and staff will be expected to use the title, although there will be a natural adjustment period.