Efforts to improve the safety and security of Pasco County Schools is an ongoing effort, as the school district works to reduce potential threats throughout the system.
The Pasco School Board recently approved a safety plan that must be submitted to state offices by Nov. 1, outlining steps the district is pursuing to make its campuses safer.
The board approved the plan on Oct. 19, following a closed-door session on school safety. The session was private because of a need for confidentiality relating to security issues.
Michael Baumaister, the district’s chief of safety and emergency operations, gave a brief overview of the security plan during the board’s meeting.
District has a strong relationship with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the municipal police agencies, Baumaister said. “We work very closely together.”
The district is always looking to improve its safety, but, he added: “I think we’re on the right track.”
“Ever since Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a lot of changes have been made to the school system,” he said, referring to the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting spree that left 17 dead and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a community in South Florida.
The public outcry, including persistent student protests, prompted state legislators to mandate safety upgrades on school campuses across Florida. The annual safety plan that must be submitted to the state is one of the requirements of the state legislation.
During the recent board meeting, Baumaister said: “As we move forward, we’re going to start looking strategically at some of our older schools that we may have to add additional things to, to enhance our safety posture.
“We use our best practices. Our security assessments that are done by law enforcement. The assessments that are also done by the school principals. We look at all improvements that are out there — new technologies, and we roll that all up with what we want to move forward with in our planning for the future,” he said.
The district also is continuing to work on various projects.
“As large as a district as we are, things take time, and we are moving along pretty well,” he said.
The district uses a work-order system to make minor repairs at schools, Baumaister said.
He explained: “These are the small projects. You can send a technician out; fix a fence. Repair a camera, things like that.”
The district also continues to add security cameras to schools.
“By the end of next year, we should have cameras in every one of our campuses,” he said.
He noted: “They’re not in the classrooms, they’re in the hallways. So, it just gives us a posture so we can keep eyes on what’s going on.
“If there’s ever an emergency, with our agreement with the sheriff’s office, they can then look in to see what’s going on at that moment, to see what may be happening.
“We took all of these lessons from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and what went on there, and try to learn from it and make improvements in our district, so we never experience anything like that here.”
He also noted that the district is using window security film, to harden the exterior of its schools. The goal is to make it hard for intruders to penetrate.
“If somebody is trying to break a window, they probably don’t have good intentions,” he said.
The security film helps keeps students and staff safe, he said. Also, “it gives time for law enforcement, and for the security guardians and for the SROs (School Resource Officers) to take action and get to the area” where there are attempts being made to penetrate the building.
“Our emergency radio communications, we’re always looking to improve them. We study them. We look for better ways to do it,” he said.
He also noted that the district has completed its project to add a doorbell system for all of its schools.
The doorbell gives school staff the ability to find out who is visiting and why, before allowing access.
Baumaister also emphasized the need to have a plan and to make sure that school staff understands it.
“This way, if something is ever to occur, they already have a plan of action in place.
“We do plan on testing our plans.
“We’re going to do small exercises with the schools, to talk about our plans and make sure that that’s fresh in their minds, and that they are always constantly keeping them updated and keeping them current,” he said.
Published October 27, 2021