Sales tax or not, with Florida grant money, Duval County Public Schools continues to focus on school safety and security improvements.
When a shooting took place at a Terry Parker High School football game in May, a new video surveillance system helped Duval County Schools Police and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office see the whole picture.
The camera systems — which provide angles from inside and outside schools — are just one facet of the district’s plan for safety and security improvements district-wide.
Now, the school district’s police department is using state money to make sure all schools are equally prepared against threats.
In January, the department received $4 million as part of an educational facility grant. According to Duval County School Police Department Director Micheal Edwards, that money will be put toward six key safety-related projects.
“We are pursuing multiple avenues to enhance safety and security at our schools,” Edwards said. “These include initiatives in training and preparation for students and staff, improvements to lighting and surveillance systems, improvements to communication, and better school access control.”
As noted at a recent school board special meeting during a best practices assessment presentation, focuses include increased camera surveillance — like what Terry Parker High School received, lighting and fencing improvements, an upgraded student badging system, a visitor management system and metal detectors.
During the meeting, board members approved submitting the assessment to the Florida Department of Education.
School security improvements have been one of the centerpieces of the school board’s argument in its case for a half-cent sales tax.
According to Superintendent Diana Greene’s master plan for facility upgrades, safety and security improvements are part of the funding’s first priority for how money will be implemented.
“It [the tax] would continue to make our schools safer,” school board chairwoman Lori Hershey said. “There are school renovations that need to be done, new schools that could be built, but a big part of that piece is making sure that our schools are as safe as possible.”
The Florida Times-Union has not received clarification from Duval County Public Schools regarding the crossover of security projects between the potential sales tax and the state grant.
Still, the district also received money for security improvements through U.S. Re[. John Rutherford. On Oct. 4, Rutherford announced his STOP School Violence Act grant program — which provides federal money to local school districts for security improvements — would give $500,000 to Duval schools.
“Every student deserves to feel safe while they are at school, and every parent deserves the peace of mind that comes from knowing we have done everything in our power to create a safe environment for their children to learn,” Rutherford said. “Today’s grant award to Duval County Public Schools reinforces our federal commitment to children and families across the country that we will never stop working to prevent school violence.”
Duval Schools spokeswoman Laureen Ricks said she could not provide details on what security projects the $500,000 grant will pay for.
“For the safety of our students, staff, and schools, I can’t provide specifics, but I can tell you though that this funding will be used toward our continued school-hardening efforts,” Ricks said.
Another element of school security improvements addressed in the best practices presentation is “school hardening.”
One revelation that came out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission meetings was the need for classrooms to designate a room’s “hard corners” — or — the area of a classroom that is safe since it’s out of the line of site from access points.
Throughout Florida schools, hard corners are being painted, marked and labeled. But it’s harder for older buildings built with plans that didn’t account for school shooters. It’s also challenging for portable classrooms — something Superintendent Diana Greene has made clear she wants to eliminate in her master plan.
At Lake Shore Middle School, portable classrooms have a window on every wall and two doors — meaning they have zero hard corner lines.
“Bullets could tear through them easily,” said Anita Aljada, who teaches at the school. “We were instructed to teach our kids to huddle in a corner that put them in the direct line of fire — if someone was shooting through windows as they did at Stoneman Douglas — from every direction because of how the portable was set up.”
Completing school-hardening projects are recognized in the district’s approved plan for making the school district safer.
According to the assessment presentation, the district also plans to continue applying for money that will go specifically to hardening projects.
Emily Bloch: (904) 359-4083