Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Pasco School Board may discuss campus safety measures

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley is calling for her colleagues to further discuss what added steps, if any, the school district should take to ensure students' security on campus.

"I think it needs to be a priority," Crumbley said Thursday, before reports of a shooting at a California high school surfaced. "You don't want parents sending their kids to school and feeling they are not safe."

She did not advocate placing armed guards at all county elementary schools, as Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia did on Wednesday in reaction to a December elementary school shooting in Connecticut. She contended that the issue deserves a fuller airing, though, and expected to have one perhaps as early as the board's Jan. 22 meeting.

Other board members welcomed the conversation. But they did not anticipate a rush to action, saying that careful consideration of the costs and benefits — both financial and otherwise — must be made first.

"This is not something that is going to be determined relatively fast just to pacify folks," board member Steve Luikart said. "It needs to be warranted. It needs to be justified."

Luikart said the district safety committee, headed by sheriff's Lt. J.R. Law, regularly looks at ways to improve campus security. It investigates ideas from other communities around the country, he said, and keeps close tabs on school conditions.

Law wrote a letter that appeared in Thursday's Tampa Bay Times, in which he explained that his office also uses a threat management system that incorporates information from a variety of sources and then acts appropriately as quickly as possible.

"They're very concerned and very on target," Luikart said.

He did not rule out the idea of adding armed officers at all elementary schools, though. Currently, the district has school resource officers at middle and high schools, but not at elementaries.

Board member Joanne Hurley was not as welcoming of the concept.

"I don't think putting SRO's at every elementary school would necessarily solve the problem," Hurley said. "If somebody is intent on wanting to cause harm, they are going to do it. I'm not open to any major changes right this minute."

She had not heard from many parents seeking a change, either.

"I've only heard from one," Hurley said. "Right now, I have to believe that most of our parents feel the measures we are taking are appropriate and adequate."

Board member Allen Altman said he has received mixed reactions from parents, who want to know their children are safe but also wonder about the extent to which schools and society at large can guarantee that safety. He noted that many people expressed the sentiment that schools are among the safest places they can send their children.

"There is a lot of investigation and debate that needs to take place to ensure that whatever steps are taken are well thought out," Altman said. "I want it not to be an emotional decision, but an informed decision that truly increases safety for our students and staff."

He remained uncertain whether hiring officers for the elementary schools would be the best investment the district could make.

"These are all difficult things," Altman said, "and I'm not sure there are good answers to any of them."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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