Tighter security should make Brevard County schools safer


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Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn is working closely with Sheriff Wayne Ivey to bolster school security.

Viera Voice Julie Sturgeon

 

Students’ safety at school has become a concern across the nation, and Viera schools are among those under scrutiny for tighter security measures.

Viera and Suntree are just a few hours north of Parkland, the scene of the Feb. 14 tragic shooting deaths of 17 students and staff. As students become more vocal about their right to a safe learning environment, administrators grapple with challenges and solutions.

Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey recently discussed plans to increase school security in Brevard.

“We definitely welcome the sheriff’s recommendations,’’ Blackburn said during a recent press conference. “It’s important that we have his skill set and his expertise to guide us through this.”

Blackburn and Ivey have devised a four-part strategy:


Teaching students and staff what to do if an active shooting happens


Continued hardening of schools (increasing building security)


Adding full-time resource officers to elementary schools


Implementing a volunteer-based school marshal program.

Ivey emphasized the importance of empowering students to voice concerns through Operation Speak Out, a phone app that has been successful in the past. The motto is, if you see something say something.

“Students are the ones that are there every day, they hear the remarks, they hear the comments, they see the bullying and everything else,” Ivey said. “We need to make that (reporting threats) as easy as we can.”

Students also are encouraged to speak to parents, peers, teachers or other trusted adults. For that to happen, snitching must be redefined to distinguish it from seeking help to preventing violence, according to violence prevention and school safety expert Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia.

“We encourage our students to reach out to as many trusted adults and even peers as they can,” said Jennifer Wolfinger, a spokesperson for Brevard Public Schools. “A lot of times, their first line of communication is their teachers or administrators. The more people they talk to, the faster we can respond.”

Another key aspect is training for an active shooter or other emergency. Blackburn discussed a plan that will allow students and staff to know exactly what to do in the event of an active shooter, which will be formulated into a drill.

School hardening improvements will include perimeter fencing and a single-point entry, funded by the 2014 half cent sales tax. Structural changes are being considered, as are metal detectors and locking classrooms remotely.

“We are trying to not get very specific about measures,” Wolfinger said. “We don’t want to be vulnerable.”

She added that parents always are welcome on their child’s campus and they are welcome to assess the situation.

In a recent email, Viera High Principal Mike Alba wrote that security upgrades to the front entrance are being finalized. Parents coming into the front office to check out their child will encounter a new security door and other measures to gain access to the attendance office.

The buildings at Viera and Suntree schools include challenges that are unique to each campus, but all will have armed resource officers.

Ivey doesn’t want to stop there. He is pushing to implement a controversial program called STOMP or, Sheriff Trained Onsight Marshal Program. STOMP, opposed by many parents and teachers, has not yet been approved by the school board in Brevard. It allows for certain school employees to be trained and armed.

“Ideally (these would be) people with military or law enforcement experience,” Ivey said. “For example, ROTC commanders at schools, who are passionate to protect as well as educate (students).”

Blackburn discussed another part of the program, which includes the STAR program: Success Through Awareness and Restoration, which focuses on students’ mental health. He called it a legitimate alternative education program to meet the needs of certain students.

“STAR … will address the needs of students that have been identified as having severe behavior problems or any anti-social behavior and may be of danger to themselves or other,” Blackburn said.

Students, parents and community members are invited to voice their input. Blackburn said he supports students who want to demonstrate peacefully. On March 14, Viera High principal Mike Alba joined students as they participated in a national student walk out for 17 minutes during school hours, a minute for each victim in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Does activism make a difference? One landmark result is the bipartisan vote by the Florida Congress in favor of a gun control and school safety bill. The bill requires firearm purchasers to be at least 21 years old and adhere to a three-day waiting period. It also bans bump stocks and provides funding for school police officers and mental health counselors.

That same legislation allows school boards to implement a school marshal program. On March 9, it was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The next School Board Meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. April 17 at 2700 Judge Fran Jamieson Way.

For information or to voice concerns, contact District 2 School Board member Matt Susin at susin.matthew@brevardschools.org,

Superintendent of Schools Desmond Blackburn at blackburn.desmond@brevardschools.org, the

Speak Out Hotline at 800-226-7733

or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).