Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Common sense prevails as School Board reject's armed guard plan

To be perfectly fair, you have to have a bit of sympathy for Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia. There you are running the eighth-largest school system in the country — close to 200,000 students with 14,000 teachers and some armed-to-the-gills lunatic has just murdered 20 children and six school employees in Newtown, Conn.

People expect you to do something. So it's perfectly understandable why Elia opted for Knee-jerk Reaction 101. Clearly we needed to put more people with more guns in more schools.

But for all her good intentions, Elia didn't count on her bosses — the Hillsborough County School Board — rejecting the notion that more guns necessarily translates into more security. Elia didn't count on her plan being undermined by something so rarely found in large governmental bureaucracies — good, old-fashioned common sense.

The board voted to reject Elia's "a-gun-in-every-pot" approach requiring the hiring of 130 new security personnel at a cost of $4.1 million in its first full year.

In the end, the optics were always against Elia.

By advocating turning the system's elementary schools into armed enclaves, the superintendent, perhaps unwittingly, appeared to be kowtowing to the harrumphing shills of the gun industry at the National Rifle Association, whose sole response to Newtown was to lock and load school administrators and teachers in the nation's schools. Body armor optional?

You would have an easier time reasoning with a bobblehead doll than expecting any thoughtful approach to the nation's culture of gun violence from the NRA.

At best, Elia's idea to beef up armed security at public schools was a feel-good, window-dressing approach that would have done little more than provide a false sense of security to parents. Let us not forget that Columbine High School in Colorado, where 12 students and a teacher were gunned down, had armed security.

And even if the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown had been armed, as the NRA suggested, would she have been any match against a heavily weaponized killer who also was aided by the element of surprise?

Insert: Duh. Spelled: NRA.

At the same time, it probably didn't help that while Elia was pushing for $4.1 million in additional security expenses, the Tampa Bay Times' Marlene Sokol was reporting that exceptional student education aides and attendants responsible for helping the school system's most vulnerable children earn just slightly more than minimum wage, meager pay even by Florida standards. Many get no benefits and precious little training.

The revelations came in the wake of the deaths of two ESE students, Isabella Herrera, who stopped breathing on a school bus; and Jennifer Caballero, who drowned in a pond after wandering away from Rodgers Middle School.

Or put another way, the safekeeping of some of the most at-risk students in Hillsborough schools falls to ESE aides and attendants making an average of $14,277 a year.

If Elia is so concerned about the well-being of students, wouldn't it be a good idea to take some of the $4.1 million she wanted to spend on a fig-leaf of security and pay those who shoulder the responsibility of protecting special needs students a living wage while also making sure they are properly trained to do the job?

For the parents of Herrera and Caballero, the Hillsborough school system turned out to be as dangerous as Sandy Hook.

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