Board Says No To Armed Guards At District Elementary Schools

By Tamas Mondovics

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s  multi-faceted, long-term proposal to enhance security at every elementary school came to a halt last month when the Hillsborough County School Board, excluding an $8,500 contract for a security consultant, rejected the plan.

The board’s decision came only a week following Elia’s public announcement of the plan and less than a month following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

To push the comprehensive, as well as expensive plan—nearly $4 million next year and $3.7 million each year after that—Elia was joined by law enforcement, school security, elementary principals, School Board members, and many concerned parents.

“Let me tell you that I wish this wasn’t necessary,” Elia said. “I wish we didn’t have to consider any of these strategies, but the world has changed since I was in school. It changed again on December 14.”

Elia’s plan included a national school safety expert to recommend improvements in the district’s safety protocols and facilities, whom she said, would work with local law enforcement and district security staff to conduct school-by-school reviews.

The measure also proposed changes in facilities to make sure there is controlled access to all campuses, ongoing crisis management training for administrators, staff, and students.

The hiring of an additional 130 security personnel was also part of the plan, who would have performed duties similar to the ones performed by School Resource Officers (SROs) and School Resource Deputies (SRDs).

The extra security would have added to the roster of existing school resource deputies and officers that have been provided by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department. The district would have had armed and trained personnel in every school.

Elia emphasized that following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the reactions and responses were swift and, in many cases, inspiring and that the response in Hillsborough County was especially gratifying as local law enforcement worked with the school district to design a plan that was impressive in its scope and immediacy.

The tragedy occurred on a Friday. The following Monday, armed officers and deputies were at each elementary school.

“I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to Sheriff Gee and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor for their work and the work of their staffs,” the Superintendent said.

The Board, however found Elia’s security proposal overboard, as well as hasty, as members one-by-one expressed their uneasiness with the plan, while mentioning that turning down the measure would give the wrong impression.

Chairwoman April Griffin said that by getting out in front of this with a press conference, Elia put the board in a difficult and awkward position.

School board member, Stacy White, also cautioned to be careful not to let one individual that did a terrible thing cause others to have tunnel vision with respect to student safety.

“We can’t rush this and do it right,” White said.

While the debate and subsequent disagreement over the best way of keeping students safe will continue in the boardroom, the extra security commitment provided by Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office patrols at elementary schools until the end of this academic year will remain in place.

For more information about Hillsborough County Public Schools please visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.