Education

Runcie reverses plan for metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas ahead of new school year

Demonstrators hold signs during a “March for Our Lives” rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Chicago. Students and activists across the country planned events in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Demonstrators hold signs during a “March for Our Lives” rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Chicago. Students and activists across the country planned events in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. AP

Two weeks after the principal of the Parkland school said otherwise, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools has scrapped plans to introduce metal detectors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by the start of classes on Aug. 15.

Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Friday that the school district will continue to pursue a pilot trial for the metal detectors but not until the district carefully considers possible issues with the speedy implementation of such a measure, including privacy concerns and how to screen more than 3,000 students every day in a timely manner.

“As we continue our due dilligence to implement the program — consulting with vendors and experts and reviewing turnkey solutions — many issues have been raised that require the District to pause and have a more thoughtful discussion on policy and procedural aspects of this pilot,” Runcie said in a letter to the school community.

The reversal angered some Parkland parents, like school safety advocate Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died during the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead and 17 others hurt.

“The dysfunction Broward School [Board] has failed your children once again,” he tweeted on Friday. “We must hold these people accountable!”

The proposal to check students for weapons and mandating they use clear back packs were two of the district’s more controversial safety recommendations following the shooting. Many students at the school have spoken out against these measures, arguing that implementing gun laws would be more effective at stopping school shootings.

In a carry-over from last year, students and staff will be required to wear school ID’s while on campus, and staff will have to swipe their badges to enter the main administration building.

Last month, Principal Ty Thompson said the clear-bag policy, which went into effect in April after the students returned from spring break, would not return for the 2018-19 school year. He also said the pilot program for metal detectors would be introduced this school year.

On Aug. 14, a day before classes are set to start across the county’s public schools, the district will host a workshop with the security firm it has enlisted to assess the safety of every school in the district and go through the school system’s policies and training, he said.

The first set of findings from an independent security risk assessment commissioned by the school district will be presented to the School Board during this Aug. 14 workshop, Runcie said. These recommendations will be used to decide on any additional security enhancements at Stoneman Douglas and throughout the district.

In his letter to parents, Runcie outlined several safety upgrades students and staff will notice when they return to campus later this month.

Among those are upgrades to the surveillance video camera systems across the district, the installation of additional cameras at Stoneman Douglas and the use of new fencing and gates to establish a “secondary perimeter” at the school that will limit campus access to three entrances once you pass the main perimeter fence.

Classroom doors throughout the school will remain locked from the outside at all times, Runcie said. The school’s intercom system has been upgraded in connection to the establishment of 34 new portable classrooms that will address capacity issues caused by the closure of the school’s 1200 building, the scene of the Feb. 14 shooting.

The visitor’s door to Stoneman Douglas’ main entrance will feature a new video intercom system and electronic door-release buzzer to ensure the door remains locked at all times. This will serve as the single-point entry during the school day.

The school has also hired a dedicated security staffer whose “sole responsibility will be to monitor the camera system and alert appropriate individuals of suspicious activity,” Runcie said. A $6.2 million investment approved by the School Board last month will fund Phase II of this district-wide security camera system improvement.

Principal Thompson said last month that 52 additional security cameras and four more security staffers will monitor the Parkland campus. The administration has increased the school’s security staff by 15 employees, Runcie said.

With the resignation of former school resource officer Scot Peterson, who was roundly criticized for his response to the Feb. 14 shooting, the City of Parkland and the Broward Sheriff’s Office will station three resource officers at the school for the new school year.

“Returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be difficult for everyone, most especially for students, faculty and staff,” Runcie wrote in his address to the community. “Our hope is that we can all continue to find ways to come together, as the District works to make our school environment safer and stronger.”

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