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Pasco revisiting safety precautions for special needs students

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school district officials are revisiting their procedures for dealing with missing or endangered students with special needs.

The issue came to the forefront in recent weeks after two high-profile student deaths in Hillsborough County.

"We have an urgency and want to move this forward very quickly," special education director Melissa Musselwhite said. "This gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we have in place and what we can improve on."

The Pasco district has had many preventive strategies in place for years, Musselwhite said. Those include:

• Coordinated team scheduling at schools, to account for the roles and responsibilities of all adults.

• Delayed lock emergency doors, which sound an alarm and do not release for 20 seconds, in several ESE classroom pods. Schools use inexpensive Radio Shack alarms on some windows and doors, as well.

• Individual school crisis intervention plans.

That doesn't mean that the efforts don't need constant attention and additions, Musselwhite said.

She plans to convene a safety work group in January, including representatives from the district office, schools and parents, to take a look at how to deal with missing students and a wide range of other related safety issues.

Already, her department has met with sheriff's deputies to discuss guidelines that will meet the needs of law enforcement. It also has discussed the models already in place at schools, in search of best practices, while also inquiring about needs.

Those conversations have resulted in such things as added communication radios for one school, and the recognition of the need to install "no-climb" fencing at another.

Talk has now turned to what types of training the district has for its employees, and how it can be provided to all who need it. In addition, the district is considering whether to run practice drills on reacting to runaway or missing students.

The new district working group would address these and other subjects as it moves forward.

School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley, who began voicing concerns about district operations soon after Hillsborough's woes emerged, said she was impressed with Pasco's ongoing work. "They have obviously done in-depth research. They are looking at everything very comprehensively," Crumbley said. "I am very confident in what I see. … I do feel better."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614, or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

Pasco revisiting safety precautions for special needs students 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 8:40pm]

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