There is no immunity, no free passes for Gulf County Schools.
No matter how small-town the feel of the district, no matter how many students and families are familiar to those working in the schools, there is no immunity from school violence and the potential for a shooter stalking the hallways.
Columbine, Newtown – enough said for any school district in the country.
“We feel like we are immune from this type of behavior, but we are not,” said Deputy Superintendent for Gulf County Schools Duane McFarland. “We are going to be prepared for anything that may happen.
“It is our responsibility to not only assure students are achieving in the classroom, but that they are also safe in the classroom.”
In order to assess district policies and procedures in the event that an “active shooter” enters Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, the district, along with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, the Gulf/Franklin Center of Gulf Coast State College, the Gulf County Health Department and Gulf County Emergency Management will conduct an exercise March 14.
That is the Friday prior to Spring Break, a half-day for Gulf County Schools.
The exercise will begin after students leave the high school at 11:30 a.m. ET and continue until 4 p.m.
There will be no live ammunition or weapons used, but a number of emergency vehicles, in response mode, will be on the school campus.
No member of the public will be permitted on the ground.
“We want to emphasize that no students will be participating in this activity,” McFarland said. “We will have training for approximately 100 staff and teachers on Wednesday and we are going to conduct the activity after students leave.
“Again, I want to emphasize – no students will be involved.”
The aim of the exercise, which is being funded through a state emergency management grant secured by county Emergency Manager Marshall Nelson, is to assess the efficacy of district policies in place for such emergencies.
“For this functional exercise we have really keyed in on two areas,” Nelson said. “One is the response of school staff and the other is the response of law enforcement.”
In addition, the exercise aims to highlight areas where district policies might be lacking and provide insight into questions and issues that policies may not anticipate.
“This is really to look at the big picture,” McFarland said. “What happens when something like this comes into the school? They are going to give us recommendations to update our policies.
“The main focus, in fact, is for Gulf District Schools to review its current policies and practice a live scenario to be better prepared for such an adverse situation. The exercise will identify vulnerabilities and how quickly first responders are equipped to assist our schools.”
The charge for the school site when a shooter enters is to lock down the school prior to the arrival of emergency management, McFarland said, noting the crucial minutes between a shooter’s presence and the arrival of assistance.
How do teachers and staff secure the students? What are procedures for silencing phones and other technological devices that might mark the presence of potential targets for the shooter?
In addition, McFarland said, the exercise will provide a learning experience for such aspects of the event as where to place media responding to the event and what would be the procedure for securing bodies and potential victims.
“This is to better prepare use in case something like this happens,” McFarland said. “That is our responsibility, to assure student safety.
“We also want parents to know this is a school shooting activity. An important one. One I’ve been trying to get here for several years. We thank Marshall for securing this grant.”
The training that will take place for two hours on the Wednesday prior to the activity will involve faculty, staff and administrators from the Port St. Joe schools as well as front office personnel from the Wewahitchka schools, McFarland said.
Before Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School is locked down for the exercise at 11:45 a.m. ET March 14, the Gulf/Franklin Center will be locked down for the same purpose at 10 a.m. ET in order to review its procedures for such an event.