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Parents anxious to see security changes in effect

The district aims to have its own police force in place by August, but parents are eager to see real security changes as soon as possible.

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  • | 9:00 a.m. April 26, 2018
Photo courtesy the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
Photo courtesy the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
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As the school district works to hire its own police force by the first day of school in the fall, parents are impatient to see much-discussed security measures become a reality.

“It’s hard to worry about your child every day,” said Gina Holbrook, mom of an eighth-grader at Sarasota Middle School.

In the days after the February mass shooting at a  South Florida high school, campus safety awareness spiked among students. Parents felt a sense of urgency after the shooting.

GIna Holbrook
GIna Holbrook

“It was so close to home,” said Holbrook, who recently attended a meeting on school safety. “I saw real fear in parents, and they almost — I don’t want to say unrealistically — they want to see something happening right away.”

In some ways, that happened. Schools had assemblies to talk to students about their school’s safety procedures, and the district began discussions about how to best provide security in the coming years. Focus was renewed on projects that were already underway, like adding fencing and creating single points of entry. Parents have taken their own steps to make their child a little safer.

Capril Hembree, who has a kindergartner at Southside Elementary School and a sixth-grader at Brookside Middle, said it’s more important now than ever that her sixth-grader always carry a cellphone. And Wendy Fitzgerald, who has a sophomore at Sarasota High, said she began researching bulletproof backpacks.

Wendy Fitzgerald
Wendy Fitzgerald

The district decided April 17 to advance a plan to hire its own police force following two months of discussion on the best course of action.

Read: Why Sarasota County Schools is short an expected $3.1 million

It will take two years to completely establish its own internal police force. The goal is to hire sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers to provide security at schools, instead of contracting with local law enforcement agencies to provide the same services.

Fitzgerald had questions about the new program: Is there money for it? Who will the district hire? How will the district communicate with existing agencies?

For the most part, the plan is still developing. The district hopes to save money with the move, and continue to partner with other agencies on a case-by-case basis.

Caprill Hembree
Caprill Hembree

The decision to separate from other law enforcement agencies hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I do think it’s a shame that we can’t come together ... to provide [security],” Fitzgerald said, citing a California city that immediately granted the district extra funding to use for security purposes with little debate about how to spend it. “I think Sarasota [County] has fallen down on its watch. If we don’t help our schools and if we are more concerned about who will pay than how to protect our students, we’re making a bad mistake.”

Holbrook said she’d heard similar arguments.

“Half are people on the administrative side understand the money-saving capabilities. The other half to that is [people who] feel that we already have a police department and a Sheriff’s Office, and that those agencies should be utilized first,” she said. “It comes from people who want to see results.”

People like Eric Rosenthal, who has two children who attend Pine View School. He’s not pleased with what he perceives as the school's shortcomings in improving its campus to be more secure.

“Nothing's really been done since [Parkland],” he said. “There’s been talk and chatter ... round tables, town hall meetings. Nothing happens. The school board's deciding stuff in a vacuum.”

Fitzgerald agreed. 

“Time’s a wasting,” she said. “We’ve had a number of threats this year at Sarasota High. It’s hard to think they don’t mean anything.”

Despite feelings of impatience, parents are overall pleased with the response by their respective schools.

Fitzgerald said she’s been pleased with Sarasota High’s response to security, but is eager for the district to make a decision on security quickly. And Hembree said she’s always felt safe at Southside Elementary.

“That’s all you can ask for these days,” she said. “It’s sad that we feel the need to hug our kids tighter, and make sure we say ‘I love you’ at drop-off.”


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