Anyone planning to attend upcoming Pasco County School Board meetings should prepare to encounter more security than in the past.
The school district expects to have a larger contingent of sheriff’s deputies, who will check visitors’ bags and use a metal-detecting wand on them before they enter the Land O’Lakes meeting chambers.
“We’re going to make it as convenient as possible, to not slow people down,” district spokesman Steve Hegarty said. “But we also have a right to make sure people don’t come in with weapons.”
The district’s new safety officer, Mike Baumaister, had been working on a series of changes to security measures. Activity outside the board’s April 20 meeting prompted quicker action.
One resident came to the session intending to speak against the district’s mask requirements and argued with officials when he attempted to enter without wearing a face covering. The man came with a pitbull dog, and officers found he was also carrying a knife.
Board chairperson Allen Altman said the board and administration also had received some “disturbing emails.”
“We need to be cautious,” he said.
The district had taken other steps to increase security at board meetings. For instance, it added a half-wall barrier and locked doors between the area where the audience sits and the board table.
It has not relied on other actions being presented. Other districts have taken such steps.
Visitors must pass through a metal detector to enter Hillsborough County School Board meetings. Officers check in people attending a Pinellas County School Board meeting and admit them through a locked entry.
Pasco board members said they understood the need to increase safety measures. Tempers can be short on some heated issues, they noted, and everyone wants to be safe.
“It is going to be a little bit different than what we have been doing,” Altman said, adding that he did not know how long the changes would be in place.