Broward County, Fla., schools are working to increase security, leading some parents to question why officials didn’t see it as urgent until a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland school.
District officials say they are reviewing options that include bulletproof glass, office door buzzers and technology that does background checks on visitors. Some of those measures have been discussed for years and are used in other districts around the country.
Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said that while security was always a priority, the Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School “changed the standards that are accepted from the public.’’
For example, all students at Stoneman Douglas will be required to go through metal-detecting wands and can carry only clear backpacks.
“There hadn’t been some call for metal detectors before. No one said that should be a priority,” Runcie said.
He said improved security, such as upgraded surveillance cameras and gates and fences to limit access, had been in the works before the attack. A recent district report says 61 projects have been completed, 31 are under construction and 23 are being designed. Sixteen projects are behind schedule, the report says.
Yet that limit on access did not deter Nikolas Cruz. He got on campus about 20 minutes before school ended, when the gates are opened for dismissal.
The school has the district’s most updated surveillance cameras but law enforcement watched them on a 20-minute delay, causing them to think Cruz was on campus after he’d left.
“I don’t know how you can be prepared for all this until you actually experience it,” School Board member Nora Rupert said.
And some of the new changes are already causing controversy. Students have complained that metal detectors make them feel like they’re in a prison, and clear backpacks won’t stop bullets.
“Clear backpacks don’t do anything except make us look stupid. We want to be safe, not uncomfortable,” Stoneman Douglas student Carly Novell said on Twitter.
Parent Casey Becher had a different concern: “How will clear backpacks be strong enough? My kids’ backpacks are heavy!”
Some parents in the Parkland community say they don’t trust the district to keep their kids safe.
“Every time we talk to the School Board, it’s reactive, not proactive,” Golden Johansson said at an Education Advisory Board meeting last week.
She said that promises to address security concerns are “17 times too late,” referring to those killed in the massacre.
Runcie disagreed. “You could always do more, but just because you haven’t done everything everyone wants doesn’t mean you’re being reactive,” he said.
As part of their security push, Broward and Miami-Dade schools will soon require students and staff to wear identification badges while on campus. And all classroom and exterior doors will be locked in both districts.
The Palm Beach County School Board has had several meetings on security but has not announced any changes.
A group of parents from Spanish River High School in Boca Raton appealed to the board last week to limit public access to the campus.
“I am hoping the school district will get this done but I am also realistic that it will take time and lots of discussions to make it happen,” Helen Luce said. “However, we are determined to fight for these changes to protect our kids and teachers not only at River but for all within the district.”
Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill allotting $450 million for school safety projects, including $100 million to hire more school police officers. Scott cited metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks as products schools could buy.
Since then, schools have been deluged with calls from companies selling security products.
“There are people who are coming out of the woodwork trying to sell us things that don’t actually work,” said Leslie Brown, a Broward school district administrator. “They are predators trying to take advantage of a tragic environment. It gets our blood curdling. They’re trying to get us to take action and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for things that may or may not work.”