WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES - Holmes County School Board held a round table workshop Thursday evening with members of law enforcement, administrators and other county officials to discuss safety and security concerns in the school district.
Some security measures the School Board has already implemented include: limiting access points for entry to schools and the district office, conducting monthly emergency drills with a new emphasis on lockdown situations, training all employees on how to respond to an active shooter scenario, and mounting security cameras in hallways, common areas and parking lots.
While all of these ideas are quick fixes, the school board is looking to make long term changes in security areas for all schools in the district. With Gov. Rick Scott introducing legislation on school security and requesting $500 million funding to aid school districts in the endeavor, the costs could end up being too high for smaller districts to maintain.
Superintendent Terry Mears urged all involved in the discussion to be mindful of that fact.
"Any program we may implement, we will need to make sure we can sustain it should funding be cut off down the road," Mears said.
Holmes County Sheriff John Tate echoed that sentiment when speaking about adding more school resource officers to each school.
"While the deputy’s salary may only be $30,000, we still have to pay insurance and retirement which ends up costing around $75,000 per employee, " Tate said. "We want to make sure that the state doesn’t decide to cut funding down the road where we will have to absorb the costs on an already tight budget."
The main safety precaution to be taken immediately and on the top of everyone’s list is locking all doors that provide access to the interior of the schools.
School Board Attorney Owen Powell spoke about putting together a policy and procedure concerning locking doors and repercussions for failing to do so. The board is expected to further discuss this matter before making any final decisions.
Mental health was one topic that was touched on during the special workshop;School Board member Rusty Williams spoke of it being the key to helping keep students safe.
"Limiting access to campuses is great, but identifying any mental health issues is key in safeguarding our students," Williams said.
Tate offered to walk through campuses with administrators to help identify any weaknesses in security and to offer ideas to help improve overall security of the campuses.
Safeguarding playgrounds was also discussed. Plans to have fences put up around school campuses and playgrounds are being made by each school, with Poplar Springs having a nine-foot fence around the school’s perimeter completed next week. Each school is using their own budgets to fund the fencing at their respective schools.
Everyone involved in the discussion agreed that the safety and security of the students is of the utmost importance and that all the entities will have to work together to do the most good.
More discussion is expected to take place when final state legislation is voted on to be able to set a more concrete plan in place.
Schools districts are adding security measures across campuses in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting massacre that claimed 17 lives on a high school campus in Parkland.
"We continue to have security on campus," said Washington County School Board Superintendent Joseph Taylor. "The main thing is awareness and being aware."
District officials said most of the schools in the district have conducted active shooter drills - something that is regularly done; however, more pertinent in light of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
At a Washington County Board of County Commissioners special meeting held Friday morning, commissioners approved $80,000 for SRO funding, which will come out of the utility franchise fee monies. The approval became effective immediately and the SROs reported for duty at school campuses Monday.
"The board finds it very important and understands that school safety is top priority in Washington County," said Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tray Hawkins. "Our goal as a county and as the commission is to ensure public safety."
Hawkins noted county funding of SROs is "unusual," however, since the board is confident in Washington County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Kevin Crews commitment to keeping schools safe.
"We want to assure every parent when their child leaves their home in the morning, their child will return happy, healthy and well-educated," he added.