School safety always a priority
In the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, there are many questions being raised, understandably, about the safety of our schools. Pasco County public schools have long been committed to safety and continually evaluate, update, train and drill on various safety procedures.
The approach to safety in our schools is based on an all-hazards approach — protocols to address risks from natural disasters and medical emergencies to campus violence. The procedures are reviewed regularly and appropriate changes are made to address new tactics or trends.
Threat management is practiced based on all available information, including social media. Information from many sources is evaluated and acted upon as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of students, staff and parents at Pasco schools. This includes whatever resources are needed to prevent violence from occurring on campuses.
Last year, for example, the Sheriff's Office was notified of a high school student claiming, on a social media site, that he was going to shoot up a school. A safety plan was created for the appropriate schools and others were notified through a coordinated effort between law enforcement and the Pasco School Board District Office. Surrounding counties and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also were notified, The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office became involved quickly and the threatening postings were tracked to a student on the east coast of Florida who was taken into custody pursuant to a Baker Act. Pasco schools were never a target, but precautions were taken locally to safeguard students, while the students in another Florida community were protected.
Elementary schools do not have an assigned School Resource Officer currently, however, many are served by SROs and Officer Friendly corporals. Patrol deputies, officers, and specialized law enforcement units will continue to provide enhanced attention to elementary schools. Any threats or concerns expressed by elementary school staff are also aggressively pursued to ensure child safety and mitigate any potential threats.
One of the most helpful things a parent can do is model calmness in the presence of their children while encouraging them to follow the instructions provided by their teachers and school staff in the event of an emergency. Parents are encouraged to keep their contact information current with the schools. They should also avoid responding to the school during an emergency before being notified by the school. This only serves to prevent first responders from quickly responding and addressing the situation.
Parents are encouraged to report any suspicious activity at or near the school as well as any unusual behavior by anyone in the community that may be a threat to the school. This information is aggressively pursued by law enforcement and can be provided anonymously through the tip icon on the Pasco Sheriff's Office website (pascosheriff.com) or Crime Stoppers (crimestopperstb.com) or by telephone at 1-800-873-8477.
Lt. J.R. Law, Pasco school safety officer, Land O'Lakes