State lawmakers are weighing in on the Indian River School District’s decision to place a security guard in each of its 15 schools beginning in September.
The district’s board of education members voted during a special meeting earlier this month to hire 13 new security officers and one school resource officer. The district already employs two school resource officers which are stationed at each high school. The security officers will be stationed at the elementary and middle schools and the additional school resource officer would go to the district’s alternative school.
According to Dr. Susan Bunting, superintendent of the Indian River School District, the decision is part of a proactive approach to increase school safety by implementing new security plans.
“One thing that these safety officers would be involved with would be the oversight and implementation of these plans,” said Bunting. “But, we’d like them to be moving around the schools throughout the day to ensure doors are locked and the appropriate people enter our schools and they’ll be on the move. They won’t be stationed behind a desk, for example. They’re going to be constantly interacting throughout the building and being there to handle whatever the occasion happens to be.”
Bunting said the security officers will not be armed and would ideally have professional police training.
“We’re looking for someone who has had experience in law enforcement,” said Bunting. “The image or concept that the board presented was one that would involve someone who is well experienced, someone who has had all kinds of interactions with people before who might be out of order or in some way causing an issue that would be possibly a challenge to school safety.”
Examples of ideal candidates would be retired city or state police officers or former FBI agents.
“We also, this morning, were asked about military police and that had not come into the conversation before, but is a very viable source of people for these positions,” said Bunting.
The school resource officers are armed, active-duty state police officers.
The school plans to re-purpose approximately $600,000 to $700,000 by replacing student officers and campus monitors with the new security guards.
Other new security measures include making sure all of the district’s schools have secured front entrances, increasing the number of security cameras within the schools and installing swipe card systems.
Last year, the state passed the Omnibus School Safety Act to create statewide framework for a Comprehensive School Safety Plan (CSSP) with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Bunting said all of the Indian River School District’s plans comply with that act however, the DSHS has not signed off on the plan just yet.
“We have not had an opportunity to discuss with Indian River school officials how non school resource officer private security will be incorporated into their site specific school safety plans,” said Lewis D. Schiliro, secretary of safety and homeland security in a statement. “As implementation of the CSSP proceeds, we look forward to doing that.”
Lawmakers weigh in
Senator Dave Lawson (R-Marydel) applauded the districts decision to amp up security measures but said he worries that would-be attackers won’t take unarmed guards as serious as guards with weapons.
“I’m very concerned with someone not being armed and able to deal with a severe encounter be it a person with a bomb, be it a person with chemicals, whatever the case may be,” said Lawson. “I think there is one sure way of stopping that and that is with a firearm. But I understand with the concern from parents and teachers about having the guns in the school where there’s so many children.”
Lawson added that he would also like the departments of education and public safety to reconsider establishing emergency exits in all classrooms.
“Years ago, almost every classroom had a panic door. Now, they did away with that for economic reasons but not for safety reasons,” explained Lawson. “I disagree with putting our children in a corner, expecting them to be quiet when havoc is being wreaked next door,” said Lawson. “That’s just not going to happen. And then, on top of it, once it’s over, how do you get them out? You take them right by the carnage.”
Rep. John Atkins (D-Millsboro) represents the region that includes the Indian River School District and said having the extra help, especially with a law enforcement background is a benefit.
“They’re trained to look for anything out of the ordinary that may not pop out to you or [me],” said Atkins. “These guys have had years and years of certification and training. It’s kind of in their blood, their instinct that something doesn’t look right.”
Atkins added that he isn’t opposed to the security guards possessing weapons such as guns as long as they’re certified and in good standing.
“I personally do not have any heartburn over someone that meets the criteria, retired in good standing and has kept their certification and their gun certification, I personally don’t have any problem with that,” said Adkins.
The decision on how to handle school security is a district by district matter based on each school’s needs according, to Sen. Dave Sokola (D-Newark), and the legislature will try to accommodate plans as they’re made.
“The school safety bill that we passed last year has the school safety committees at the local level and the fundamental decision making would be made by a committee at the local level and I would prefer that the legislature try to be supportive of whatever decisions are made at the local level to the extent that we can be,” said Sokola. “It’s an interesting dynamic that I expect some districts will approach in one way and others will approach in another way.”
He added that if more school districts decide to amp up security, particularly with school resource officers, the state may need to expedite the training and certification of more officers to accommodate the demand.