Charlie Crist asks Gibbs High students: What makes you feel safe?

Published March 5 2018

Before heading back to Washington, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D – St. Petersburg) made a pit stop at Gibbs High in St. Petersburg on Monday morning to gauge students on how safe they felt at school.

Crist touched on current legislation floating around the U.S. and state legislatures and asked three Gibbs High students what they thought about each point.

"That is our number one priority is your safety," he told them.

The students mostly agreed with Crist: Lockdown drills help, but more are needed; banning assault weapons would be great, but not arming teachers; and raising the age to buy assault-style weapons and increased checks for mentally unstable people aren't foolproof.

Student body president Jameria Green asked that the school hold a monthly meeting  with administrators and law enforcement to discuss safety measures at the school.

"I think today people don't really feel safe in schools but we need to make a change so they do come to school," said Green, an 18-year-old senior.

Crist was joined by Gibbs High principal Reuben Hepburn, Pinellas County School Board chairwoman Rene Flowers, new Pinellas County Schools Police Chief Luke Williams and associate superintendent of operational services Clint Herbic.

In his first public appearance since he took over as schools police chief March 1, Luke Williams said the district should focus on being vigilant by locking doors and drills are completed.

"Let's allow our teachers to teach, let's allow our students an opportunity to learn, let law enforcement protect," he said.

Herbic, who is charged with ensuring building and school safety, asked Crist if a federal grant program could be created to provide schools with quick access to funds for safety measures to harden schools. Crist said he would look into it.

Hepburn, the school's principal, asked for more funding for extra school psychologists, social workers and school resource officers.

"Arming teachers is not the answer," he said. "More resources in schools, that's the answer."

Crist passed out his business cards with his cell phone number to the students before taking off on a tour of the school's safety features.

"This is a very safe school," he said.

Students said they are planning a school walkout March 14 in solidarity with those who were killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting.