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Pasco plans to keep security at certain School Board meetings

LAND O'LAKES — A Pasco County Sheriff's Office patrol car sat parked right in front of the entrance to Tuesday's School Board meeting.

An armed, uniformed deputy stood in the back of the board room, arms crossed, eyes scanning the crowd.

The assorted officials in the room said this public display of security had nothing to do with last week's high profile shooting at a school board meeting in Panama City. In that instance, the gun-wielding husband of a dismissed school employee ranted about the economy before firing at the board and then taking his own life.

The deputy's presence in Land O'Lakes, where officers do not always attend, had more to do with the meeting agenda, they said. Specifically, the board was to consider new attendance zones for several schools in central and east Pasco.

"We usually do have somebody here when it deals with boundaries, or when we think there is going to be a large crowd," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, though acknowledging the audience was not as big as expected.

Fewer than a dozen parents came to talk about the boundaries. All conducted themselves politely.

But school zoning has the potential to rile up parents, board chairwoman Joanne Hurley added. Having an officer for crowd control, if necessary, is simply a prudent step, she said.

Still, Hurley said, the Panama City shooting did resonate with the board. Members did not publicly discuss what additional security measures — if any — they might need to take, but during a workshop they briefly touched upon the need to review procedures and determine if changes are required.

Hurley said she had already met privately with the district's security team to learn about the current practices, and she urged others to do the same.

Fiorentino expected to set up individual sessions with the board members after winter break.

Both Fiorentino and Hurley stressed that they would not make any knee-jerk reactions.

"I don't ever want to make policy based upon one incident," Hurley said. "That always turns out to be not as good as it could be. If we do make changes, they will be well thought out."

In the meantime, the plans call for an armed officer to be present at the board's Jan. 18 meeting, as well.

But that has nothing to do with the Panama City shooting either, said student services director Lizette Alexander, who coordinates school resource officers with the Sheriff's Office.

That's the date of the final reading of the school boundaries, she said.

By contrast, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday had an open discussion about paying for an armed officer to attend all its future meetings. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said he would recommend that practice at a future session, but not all members were in agreement.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco plans to keep security at certain School Board meetings 12/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:55pm]
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