SARASOTA, FL-- The deadly shooting at the Connecticut elementary school last week now has some parents questioning the safety of their children at schools on the Suncoast.
In response, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office placed a uniformed deputy at every elementary school this week, and the district beefed up other security measures. But now, some parents say while the extra security is comforting this week, they want to know what the plan is beyond that.
Parents say they did notice the increased law enforcement presence this week, and it did help to put their minds at ease, but now, they say they would like to see the district taking permanent measures, and increasing school's safety and security plans further.
Even with the fences, locked gates, and seemingly secure campuses, “Can you make something totally safe?”
Bill Leighton, concerned grandparent. That's the question many parents and school administrators are now asking themselves. “We take for granted that we're going to bring our kids to school and at the end of the day we'll pick them up and everything will be happy, and something like this brings to light anything can happen, we really don't have control even over the schools,” says Shaun Carlson, a concerned parent.
In Sarasota County, Sheriff Tom Knight says his goal for this week at least was to put parents and students at ease, offering as much of a sense of security that's possible after Friday’s deadly shooting. “Of course, having marked cruisers and deputies in uniforms at the schools is something really there more for emotion than for security, just to make them feel we're OK, and Sarasota county schools are OK.”
So can you make a school totally safe? Officials with Sarasota County Schools say it's a balancing act. “Always looking for that right balance between actions you take to make your schools safe, but not making them look and feel like a prison, so we're always looking for that balance, and where can we do more,” says Scott Lempe, Chief Operating Officer at Sarasota County Schools.
For now, there are 16 deputies working as school resource officers in the county's secondary schools, but none in elementary schools. Lempe says the district is always looking for ways to improve it's security and safety plans, and parents say they hope to see some changes. “We don't want another tragedy to repeat itself like in newtown. There's so many programs that we spend money on and i believe that would be one that would be worthwhile to look into,” Leighton.
Sheriff Knight points out that the school resource officers are not intended to provide security. The SRO's role is to deter crime amongst the students, which he says is why they aren't currently in elementary schools. The school district and the sheriff's department work closely together when devising security plans. In January, the board will address safety and security plans for the future.