As Superintendent, I believe the safety and security of students and employees is not a responsibility that can be delayed for the sake of a debate. Every day we do not provide the utmost protection possible, within the available financial resources at our disposal, is a day we are not doing all we can to ensure the safety and security of those entrusted to the school district’s care.
This past Wednesday, we placed unarmed security guards, known as Community Security Officers, in 31 of our district’s elementary schools. All of our other traditional public schools have School Resource Officers in them, including all of our middle schools and high schools. Two of our elementary schools – Anna Maria Elementary and Palmetto Elementary – also have SROs, thanks to special arrangements worked out with the Holmes Beach Police Department and the Palmetto Police Department respectively.
Adding the CSOs to the elementary schools gives us a trained security presence in every one of our schools in a cost-efficient way that allows us to stay within the financial resources currently available.
Even in an unarmed capacity, the fact that we have a trained person in each of our schools whose sole responsibility is to provide security protection for our students and employees, is a noteworthy step forward. With the CSOs in place, it removes the burden from our teachers and school staff of having to be the primary first responder, should a safety crisis occur on one of our campuses.
Since safety and security is one of seven goals specifically identified in our district’s Strategic Plan, it was only natural the subject of additional security for our schools rose to prominence once we learned our district’s fiscal recovery plan had provided us with a surplus in funding.
Far from being a rush, the subject of additional security for our schools has been a topic of discussion at five School Board meetings, dating back to July 22, and one School Board workshop. The plan for using CSOs for additional security was developed in response to clear direction from a majority of the School Board.
Now we are seeking an opinion from the state Attorney General to answer legal questions regarding the ability of our CSOs to be armed. We believe the district has sufficient legal grounds in support of the CSO contract, but we want the Attorney General to determine that question with certainty.
It is my understanding that the state statute in question was legislated and enacted in 1992. A lot has happened in the last 22 years, including fatal school shootings at Columbine; Sandy Hook; Paducah, Ky.; Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois Universities. Names we know all too well.
After 9/11 occurred, it changed the entire landscape of how we provide security, not only in America, but across the world. Since the statute we are asking the Attorney General to clarify was enacted, there have been more than 70 school-related shootings in the United States, and most of those shootings have involved fatalities. This compels us to be vigilant in continuously looking for ways to enhance the safety and security of our schools.
Some people say the odds and statistics are against this sort of thing happening here in one of our schools. I can’t help but think that every parent who sent their child to one of the schools we have come to know, or every person who went to work in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon on 9/11, felt like the odds and statistics were on their side.
I don’t ever want to be the superintendent who has to stand in front of a room full of parents and the media being asked the question, “Why didn’t you do more to protect your students and employees?”
Together We Can,
Rick W. Mills