In light of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, safety and security have become highly debated topics in school districts across the nation.
In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we are reviewing our practices and taking steps to improve security at schools. This includes keeping classroom doors locked at all times, the mandatory use of identification for both staff and students and the reduction of entry points. School police officers have been deployed to ensure that all high schools and middle schools have a School Resource Officer full-time. And for the remainder of the school year, the district deploy 100 uniformed unarmed security guards to augment security in all elementary schools and K-8 centers.
Still, an air of uncertainty remains as we continue to see violence in schools. Our students do not feel safe and parents do not feel safe sending them to school. There is no end-all solution to stopping violence in schools. However, we must implement all deterrents to make certain that students are safe in our schools.
At the March 21, School Board Meeting, I proposed a policy item giving schools the choice to participate in a voluntary program that will make clear backpacks a requirement at school. The ultimate decision for implementation would be made by the parents at each school. The process would begin with each school’s Educational Excellence School Advisory Committee (EESAC) that would determine that a vote be taken as to whether a school should establish a mandatory clear backpack program. If at least 50 percent plus one of parents in that school vote in favor of establishing a mandatory clear backpack program, it would be implemented.
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By giving our parents this choice, we empower them with the option of adding an additional level of security in schools.
My policy item was amended through the input of my Board colleagues and unanimously passed, giving the superintendent the authority to implement a clear backpack program as a pilot and to review it on an annual basis beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. A mandatory clear-backpack program can be implemented at any Miami-Dade County Public School. I encourage students and parents to take action if they want to implement this program.
In my tenure as School Board Member for District 5, I have remained committed to prioritizing school security. In 2016, I proposed an item exploring the feasibility of installing metal detectors in our schools. In 2017, I proposed and the board passed an item to increase the number of School Counselors. I have always been a firm believer that parent involvement is crucial to the success of our students and schools. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we work closely with parents, students and the community to assure them that we are doing all we can not only to provide safety for our students, but to also keep parents involved to keep their children safe in school.
Susie V. Castillo represents District 5 on the Miami-Dade County School Board.