A measure intended to improve the way school children are protected from active shooter situations and other breeches of school security was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 7. Provisions contained in HB 1421 become effective in July.
Specifically, HB 1421 authorizes “safe school” officers to make arrests on charter school property, and requires that all safe school officers complete crisis intervention and training to improve their knowledge and skill sets in order to respond and de-escalate incidents on school premises. It also requires law enforcement to be present during schools’ active emergency drills.
The new law requires school boards to adopt family reunification plans when students are evacuated because of a school safety-related incident and requires that districts certify annually that at least 80 percent of school personnel have received mandatory youth mental health awareness training.
While the measure boosts school safety requirements statewide, in Hernando County, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and the Hernando County School District collaborate on ways to keep K-12 students safe in local schools.
Their strategies include the placement of sworn School Resource Officers (SRO) in every school in the district, according to HCSO Deputy Public Information Officer (PIO) Michael Terry.
According to Terry, at least one SRO is stationed in each of the County’s K-12 schools. Each is armed and each is charged with immediately responding to an active shooter threat and neutralizing it. Teams of SROs also rotate from school-to-school to support those assigned to a specific school.
Hernando School District Public Information Officer Karen Jordan said that the school board recently voted to approve the use of millage funds to add a full time lieutenant to that rotating support team as well.
“Our SROs are equipped the same way another deputy on the street would be,” Terry said. “Also, they are not sitting in an office; they roam the school and could be in the cafeteria or in the gym and if an incident occurs, they are trained to respond immediately and not to wait.”
If such an incident does take place, SROs are also required to radio to other officers that an incident is underway.
“And they must respond,” Terry said.
Proactively, entry doors at each school are locked as soon as the first bell rings, Jordan said.
“All exterior doors and perimeter (doors) remain closed and locked at all times unless manned by a staff member,” she said. “All classroom doors are locked at all times during the school day, and electronic access control is on every perimeter door and gate.”
Video intercom stations at all main entrances are used to screen visitors before they ever enter a school.
Meanwhile, SROs along with school personnel tour school premises on a regular basis in search of ways to improve school security, and each school is evaluated for safety annually, Jordan said.
Finally, students participate in active assailant drills similar to fire drills, and teachers, administrators and law enforcement participate in workshop sessions to brainstorm ways to improve school safety.
“We are constantly evaluating – always looking for better ways to keep students and teachers and anyone who visits the school to be safer,” Terry said.
The school district held a school safety summit June 6-10 which saw roughly 200 participants from the school district and local law enforcement agencies, including all Hernando County principals and assistant principals, local safety teams and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
Workshop topics included emergency situations, reunification, best practices in campus safety operations and updated procedures. Officer William Chapman, one of the first on scene at the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, shared his firsthand accounts of that harrowing day and the lessons that have contributed to stronger safety practices at schools throughout the country. Tom Czyz, former detective, and SWAT team operator shared his expertise in active shooter situations and assailant response tactics.
“This summit created an opportunity for law enforcement and school safety teams to collaborate and strategize on refining and enhancing safety procedures in our schools,” said Jill Renihan, Director of Safe Schools for the district.
“Following the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, it serves as a reminder that this type of training and collaboration around safety measures remains necessary. There is no goal more important than keeping our schools, and the children and staff within them, safe.”