Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Education

Parents grateful to see police at Hillsborough elementary schools

TAMPA — With the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School fresh in mind, parents at Hillsborough County schools were grateful Monday to see squad cars in the parking lots and police greeting their children.

It should not matter, they said, that the extra patrols will cost taxpayers close to $2 million in unincorporated Hillsborough.

"How do you put a price on life?" asked Cannella Elementary School parent Ann Adams.

One by one, parents agreed as they dropped off their children at schools for the first time since winter break.

So did crossing guard Tony Dorta. "An officer's presence is a good thing, especially in the times we're living in," he said.

Tampa police and Hillsborough deputies reported a warm reception and no incidents.

"Just the way we hope it will go," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Schools around the country have struggled with issues of security since the fatal shooting in December of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn.

"I was crying for a week," said Pam Glasser, a parent at Gorrie Elementary School in South Tampa. "It's just unbelievable that somebody would take the lives of innocent children."

But how to lessen the risk of attacks is a point of disagreement between gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association, which has called for armed guards at schools.

A Rasmussen poll found that among parents of school-age children, 62 percent would feel safer with an armed security guard at the school, while 22 percent would feel safer if their child attended a gun-free school.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pasco and Pinellas county school districts have opted against the extra elementary school presence, while Hernando County will provide enhanced security when children return today. .

In Hillsborough, which already has school resource officers at its middle and high schools, the Sheriff's Office and Police Department have agreed to send patrols in the morning and at dismissal time to all 142 elementary schools.

Some will be there during the school day as well.

While the Police Department is redirecting existing patrols with no added cost, the Sheriff's Office is paying overtime.

In a recorded telephone message, schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia told parents she is grateful to both agencies. "We believe this will make our schools more safe and secure," she said.

Opinions on the School Board, though, were mixed.

While sensitive to parents' concerns, members Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes said they doubt a lone officer could stop someone who was heavily armed and intent on doing damage.

"When these tragedies occur, we come into a reactive mode," Valdes said. She's asking for information about security systems — including locked gates and buzzers — at the schools in her election district.

Stuart, who has three children in the schools, said, "I completely understand where parents are coming from. It's something the public has asked for. But where is the money going to come from?"

Member Stacy White said he appreciates the good-faith gesture, but, "I'm not sure that's necessarily the appropriate long-term solution."

He and Valdes suggested there might be ways to combine the jobs of guards and resource officers, who function largely as community police.

But, White added, "At the end of the day, we have to be extremely responsive to the community."

Judging by the comments from parents at Cannella and Gorrie, the school community wants as much security as it can get.

"We need more officers at the schools," said Jennifer Hellman at Gorrie. "You can't control the guns."

At Cannella, Jonathan Berrios said that he would also like to see more training given to teachers in how to respond if the school were under attack.

"If I'm home, I can hear the bullets, but I won't know what's happening in the school," he said.

Teresa Penaherrera suggested each school have two officers. "One in a uniform and the other in plainclothes," she said.

Michelle Venegas said she is grateful for any improvement. "Sometimes they leave the gate open during the day, and I've complained about it," she said.

Like the others, she said she is not concerned about cost. "It's to protect the kids," she said.

Nor were parents bothered by the suggestion that the patrols are largely for appearance.

"It can't hurt," said Jim Hernandez at Cannella. "I'd rather they be there than not be there."

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report.

Comments
Man who defrauded area charter schools sentenced to 20 years in prison

Man who defrauded area charter schools sentenced to 20 years in prison

The leader of a scheme to defraud charter schools in seven Florida counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison.The action, taken in Escambia County Circuit Court, was reported by the Pensacola News Journ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Nearly 100 ideas to rename Tampa’s Lee Elementary

Nearly 100 ideas to rename Tampa’s Lee Elementary

From the obvious to the ironic and back again, Hillsborough residents racked their collective brains to find the best new name for Lee Elementary School.MaryEllen Elia was suggested, for the last superintendent.But that won't happen. A newly revised ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Losing Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementaries? Pasco parents, students and teachers push back against proposed school closings

Losing Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementaries? Pasco parents, students and teachers push back against proposed school closings

Two west Pasco schools are recommended for closure as officials seek to consolidate students and programs. Reaction to the idea hasn't been overly positive.
Published: 11/13/18
USF and other Florida universities join nationwide effort to improve college access

USF and other Florida universities join nationwide effort to improve college access

Together, they will "create a playbook of adaptable student success reforms," USF said.
Published: 11/13/18
Florida education news: Prekindergarten, parent pushback, school board races and more

Florida education news: Prekindergarten, parent pushback, school board races and more

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Published: 11/13/18
The Daystarter: Will clock run out on Florida recount?; Millennials and their home-buying habits; Bucs make change at kicker

The Daystarter: Will clock run out on Florida recount?; Millennials and their home-buying habits; Bucs make change at kicker

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today. • Slight chance of showers later this morning and a chance of early afternoon thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service. Skies will be partly sunny with a high nea...
Published: 11/13/18
Hillsborough takes heart from a new number: More kids were prepared for kindergarten this year.

Hillsborough takes heart from a new number: More kids were prepared for kindergarten this year.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County educators are pointing to a significant upturn in the number of kids who showed up for kindergarten this year ready to learn, a key indicator that bodes well for students as they move through the public school syste...
Published: 11/12/18
Florida education news: School funding, board members, student testing and more

Florida education news: School funding, board members, student testing and more

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Published: 11/12/18
Florida voters are saying yes when school districts ask for more money. Is that a good thing?

Florida voters are saying yes when school districts ask for more money. Is that a good thing?

Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins takes a clear message from last week's election, which saw many Floridians vote to tax themselves more to help public schools meet rising costs.People see the challenges firsthand and "they know t...
Published: 11/12/18
Linda Lerner steps away after 28 years on the Pinellas School Board. ‘I wanted to make things better for everybody’

Linda Lerner steps away after 28 years on the Pinellas School Board. ‘I wanted to make things better for everybody’

Linda Lerner, one of Florida's longest-serving school officials with nearly three decades on the Pinellas County School Board, will step down Tuesday, leaving her seat for one of three new members elected last week.The decision was difficult, Lerner ...
Published: 11/12/18