Sunday, October 24, 2021

Securing Our Schools

Submitted Photo

School may be out for the summer on Marco Island but the work continues as new safety precautions are put into place following the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.

Student and staff safety is number one when it comes to education these days, then the learning can take place, says Kevin Ray, Marco Island Academy’s dean of students.

“Our kids are our babies and we want to protect them everyday,” Ray said in a phone interview.

Collier County Public Schools plans to have locked door security systems in place in all its schools when the academic year starts in August; Marco Island Academy (MIA) and the other island schools will follow the same protocol, said Marco Island Police Department Captain Dave Baer.

“We’re doing everything that every Collier County public school is doing,” Ray said. That includes a check-in system for visitors who will have to verify their identity and reason for being a school prior to being granted entrance and given a visitor’s badge, he said.

Neither Ray nor Baer would elaborate on the type of system being installed or other details about school access and security for the students and teachers. Revealing all the details could allow someone to find away around the system, they said.

“We track all student movement on campus through some use of procedures for example to and from restroom through security surveillance cameras,” Ray said. As far as student IDs or protocol for picking up students, Ray said providing the information to the public could jeopardize student safety. “If parents have questions they should give us a call directly,” he said.

In addition to technology, locked doors and strict visitor policies, each island school also will have a full-time police officer assigned to it. In March, Marco Island City Council approved $300,000 to cover the cost of a full-time resource officer at each school – MIA, Tommie Barfield Elementary and Marco Island Charter Middle School.

Prior to the Feb. 14 shootings in Broward County, Marco Island Police had one officer full-time and two part-time officers assigned to cover the three island schools “as best they could,” said police Captain Dave Baer. After the Parkland shootings, MIPD paid overtime to keep one full-time officer at each school.

“We’ve hired some new officers – some have started,” Baer said. The new officers aren’t necessarily going to the schools, but they have been hired so officers can be assigned full time.

Each resource officer’s day will include specific duties such as pick up, drop off and lunch – that require their presence, Baer said. The officers also will be mentoring, presenting educational programs including D.A.R.E. and watching the playgrounds.

“They have full days, not just sitting in an office waiting for something to happen,” Baer said. When school is out, those same officers will be relocated to where the children are – mostly at the parks and camps.

While every school on Marco Island will follow the guidelines set up by the state and Collier County for locking doors and implementing a check-in system, Baer and Ray said there also will be plans and programs unique to each school.

MIA is the only one of the island schools made up of multiple mobile units. The school set up an office with a camera system for its resource officer to be able to watch every area of campus.

“The size of our campus provides us with some benefits,” Ray said of the approximately 230-student, 15-teacher campus on San Marco Road. A small school and small campus makes students, teachers and parents close knit and aware of everyone who is on campus at all times as well as possible behavior changes in students, he said. Since July 2017, MIA has a licensed mental health agent on campus a couple of days a week to talk to students, parents and teachers, Ray said.

MIA’s architecture, student population, proximity to roads, and woods behind it are all taken into consideration when updating safety procedures, just as Tommie Barfield’s proximity to houses and roads is considered in a safety plan, Baer said.

“Security processes have changed over the years based on threats and best practices,” Baer said, “We have always had security plans.”

The threat has increased significantly in the past six years since 20 first graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Since then, there have been 239 school shootings, in which 90 people have died, according to Gun Violence Archive, a not for profit formed in 2013.

All the island schools are treated with the same care and concern, Baer said.

“Parents get concerned that charter schools are handled on Marco Island different than the public schools. And they aren’t,” Baer said. “It’s a uniqueness to Marco Island – they are all Marco Island children.”

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