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Board reassures public on school safety

At its regular meeting May 25, a day after a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas tooks the lives of at least 19 elementary school students and two teachers, members of the school administration and board took pains to address school safety.

Board member Pam Marshall began the discussion by noting that when the district first put in a series of gates and locked doors, along with bulletproof glass in the front office, “I thought it was overkill. Now I am very thankful.”

She said she has visited other schools in the Panhandle that do not appear to have near as many safeguards in place. “It’s a shame we even have to worry about something like this,” she said. “I am very proud of our school.”

Superintendent Steve Lanier noted that all such protective mechanisms are not necessarily mandated by Florida law.

“A lot don’t have them, it’s not a requirement,” he said, noting that Guardian training, in which school personnel are empowered with training to carry firearms, “has been pretty intensive. We’re a lot better off than we were a year ago.”

Board Chairman Stacy Kirvin, who often conducts master school board workshops across the state, said he has learned in training that the challenge can be more than implementing protective measures.

“They basically said that part of the problem is the mindset that you’re in a safe place,” he said. “It’s almost like we need to change our mindset to be more perceptive of that.”

Kirvin asked about other possible measures, including for more security and for mental health.

“They’re going to jump over a fence or something. Is there any way to feasibly secure that perimeter? I don’t think you can make it impenetrable. It’s a very frustrating thing that you can’t make it safe enough” he said. “I don’t understand why the legislature does not earmark more money for preventive measures for mental health. (These shooters) have had a myriad of issues. We could bring in more mental health counseling and identify these kids.”

Anthony Croom, director of school safety, said the district has nine members of its security team, which includes a number of Guardians certified to carry firearms. “Some (schools) only have two,” he said.

He said he has conducted Safe Schools For Alex in-service training for both current and new hires, the training named in memory of a student who died in the Parkland shooting.

“It actually shows them what to do in the event, how to barricade a door” ” Croom said. “It goes hand in hand with me visually demonstrating to them. We are one of the safest schools in the Panhandle.”

Kirvin noted that in a district as small and tight-knit as Franklin, it is easier for teachers and staff to identify individuals who might be subject to destructive behaviors, as compared to districts that often have several thousand students at a single school.

“That wouldn’t happen here without serious red flags,” he said. 

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