Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay grade schools: modern-day fortresses, yet still vulnerable

The 21st century schoolhouse is something of a fortress.

In the Tampa Bay area, grade schools are typically fenced off and often protected by video surveillance systems. Visitors ranging from class moms to guest speakers are routed through front offices, where they hand over driver's licenses to be checked against a sexual predator database. Resource officers are assigned to some elementary schools.

In today's world, a first-grade teacher might one day become a first responder. So, in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, educators who spent years learning how to teach math and reading now act out disaster scenarios in something called "active shooter" training. Hillsborough County schools also undergo regular emergency training.

And despite all these safety precautions, there is one bottom line: They might not work.

"We've done everything that we can think about to make (schools) as secure as possible," said Michael Bessette, Pinellas schools associate superintendent for facilities, operations, safety and security.

But he says there's probably no institution that's completely safe "if somebody is bound and determined to wreak havoc."

"What it comes down to is you can't stop a person from coming onto campus," said Barry Crowley, the longtime manager of safety and security for Hernando schools. "What you can do is minimize their ability to actually get to people to harm them."

The first thing a school does when a shooter is spotted is order a lockdown, which serves to compartmentalize the building, Crowley said.

In a lockdown, each classroom is locked from the inside. Lights are turned off, windows are covered and students are instructed to stay away from doors and windows. They are instructed not to open the door, except for law enforcement. It takes a special card or key to open any of the classroom doors.

Each classroom has a phone, and people inside can report any information to school administration or law enforcement. Schools practice lockdowns twice a year.

On Friday afternoon, news of the shooting was filtering through schools at roughly dismissal time. Pasco schools tweeted tips for parents on how to talk about such tragedies (from @PascoSupport).

"Parents are rightfully concerned," said Lizette Alexander, Pasco schools' director of student support. "We are very saddened by the situation."

In Hillsborough County, the Sheriff's Office will increase its visibility at elementary schools in unincorporated areas beginning Monday as a way to reassure parents and students, sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Staff writers Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey S. Solocheck contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay grade schools: modern-day fortresses, yet still vulnerable 12/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 10:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two Boca Ciega students arrested on charges they brought gun to high school football game


    PINELLAS PARK — Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for having a loaded semi-automatic handgun with them at a Friday night football game at Pinellas Park High School.

    Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for bringing a weapon on school property on Friday night at a high school football game at Pinellas Park High School.
  2. Bucs-Jaguars was NFL's lowest-rated ESPN game since 2005


    It is just the preseason, and it is the Jaguars, but Thursday night's Bucs-Jags preseason game earned a 1.6 rating on ESPN, which is the lowest-rated preseason game (excluding NFL Network) in 12 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, left, talks with coach Dirk Koetter during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
  3. Crash at U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park kills one, shuts down traffic


    PINELLAS PARK — A man is dead after a crash between two cars at the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and 70th Avenue N just after 7 a.m. Saturday.

    Pinellas Park police are investigating the death of a man during a crash on U.S. 19 early Saturday. (Pinellas Park police)
  4. Tropics watch: The latest on Harvey and what systems could hit Florida


    While Eastern and Central America monitor the progress of Tropical Storm Harvey, two tropical disturbances are moving through the Atlantic.

  5. Roberto Aguayo, Jonathan Drouin, Tim Beckham are coming for revenge


    Forget the Three Tenors.

    Make it the Three Terrors.

    The 2017 Unfulfilled Expectations Tour is about to hit Tampa Bay.

    From left, former Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, ex-Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin and former Rays infielder Tim Beckham. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times; DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times; Getty Images]