DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school, which claimed the lives of 17 students, Florida authorities on the state and local levels are crafting plans to increase school safety and address students' mental health.
Gov. Rick Scott met with Northwest Florida law enforcement, including Milton Police Chief Tony Tindell, Feb. 28 at the Walton County Sherriff’s Office to discuss his plan for upgrading school safety. The Santa Rosa County School District the day prior conducted its first School Security Task Force Meeting.
Scott asked law enforcement, educators and mental health professionals from around the state to come to Tallahassee after the shooting for a roundtable discussion on school safety and received ideas from Florida sheriffs and police chiefs.
“Every parent in our state — every parent in the country — should be very comfortable when they send their child to school [that] their child will come home safely,” Scott said. “We are in the last week and a half of our legislative session and we have got to get something done. We cannot let this time pass without having a significant improvement on the safety of our children.”
On Feb. 23, Scott proposed reforms he said would make it virtually impossible for anyone who struggles with mental illness, or anyone who threatens others or themselves, to have access to a gun.
“We need to have a significant increase in mental health resources and we’ve got to keep the guns out of the hands of people who struggle with mental illness,” Scott said.
The proposed plan would cost the state $500 million. According to Scott, the state can afford it — the anticipated revenues are significantly higher than the $3 billion the state originally expected.
Scott’s plan is as follows:
• Increase collaboration between local law enforcement, sheriffs, schools, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice.
• Have mandatory law enforcement officers in every public school in the state.
• Make significant investments in school safety: metal detectors, bullet proof glass, steel doors, upgraded locks.
• Start an anonymous “see something, say something” statewide hotline, website and smartphone app.
• Include dedicated mental health counselors at all schools in the state.
• Embed an employee from DCF in every sheriff’s department so they can organize efforts and share information and ideas to figure out how to deal with anybody coping with mental illness or those thinking of harming themselves or others.
• Include a threat assessment team at every school — principal, teacher, law enforcement officer, DCF and DJJ — that will address concerns at monthly meetings.
“My goal is to have a massive change in school safety. It’s no different than what we’ve done in regards to airports,” Scott said. “Nothing is more important now than to protect our students and to make sure an evil act like this never happens again in our state.”
“I’m glad to see his plan and glad to see he’s stepping up to the forefront and making these changes, because this stuff needs to stop and we need to protect our children the best we can,” Tindell said.
The Santa Rosa County task force meeting included school district administration and representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Gulf Breeze and Milton Police Departments, Santa Rosa County Health Department and Santa Rosa County Emergency Management. They discussed security improvements, mental health issues and implementation of additional resource officers.
The task force recommended the convening of a Community Roundtable — including leaders from education, law enforcement, mental health agencies, emergency management, parents, local government, businesses, and faith based organizations — to bring local decision makers together to discuss school safety and to seek public input.