ABC Action News | By Larissa Scott | July 19, 2022
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Pinellas County School Board got an update on the district’s school security and mental health plans for the upcoming school year at Tuesday’s board workshop.
On safety and security, Chief Luke Williams of the Pinellas County Schools Police Department explained that they highlighted what they’ve done over the years and recently to make sure that their schools are safe.
“Our gates are locked when there’s no ingress and egress, and if there is ingress and egress during the time that school is either letting in or being dismissed, that we have a staff member that’s present there to monitor those children coming in,” said Chief Williams. “Each of our campuses have vestibules so that an individual just can’t come in off the street and walk into the school and into the classroom.”
The safety plan is based on the district’s four pillars of school security. These pillars have been in place for several years:
- Secure facilities through physical security features
- Daily practices of promoting a safe but welcoming environment
- Planning and preparation to be ready to respond to an emergency
- Creating a positive school climate where those in need can receive appropriate support
According to the plan, all gates and doors will be locked, each campus will have armed security, all visitors will get a background screening, and all staff will be trained by law enforcement.
The security plan also states the district will continue implementing anti-bullying and student crime watch programs at every school, and there will be threat assessment teams to identify and help students in need.
Chief Williams said what’s new for the upcoming school year is the “ALERT” platform, which he says incorporates all the systems they already have in place, like their panic button, apps, and intercoms within the system within the school building.
“If there’s an incident that occurs, basically it alerts our local law enforcement agencies to include school’s police and the sheriff’s office and whatever jurisdiction the school happens to be in, and it actually gives them the ability to see the cameras. They can see movement. They can even make announcements over the PA system to direct students,” said Williams.
Each school will have social workers, counselors, and psychologists.
The school district is also investing more into improved mental health services for students, allocating $4,366,321 to mental health assistance this upcoming school year.
That money will go toward more mental health and suicide prevention training for staff, substance abuse prevention and intervention, hiring more mental health experts, and improving the process of identifying students with mental health issues.
“There’s not an hour in the day that goes by that I’m not focused on some aspect of improving the safety and making sure that your student, your child, your loved one comes home at the end of the day,” said Chief Williams.
There will also be a lot of other new things parents and students can expect this upcoming school year.
“We really want to get back to really high expectations for teaching and learning in our schools and that it’s not okay just to be there but that we need to excel,” said Kevin Hendrick, the Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools.
Some of the additions this school year include:
- Administering the new state, online assessments in PreK-10
- Expanding VPK to 15 additional classrooms, including three classrooms at free, all-day sites
- Expanding athletic offerings to include bowling teams across the district and flag football at all middle schools
- Providing more focus on the Bridging the Gap program with ELA and math interventionists at 18 secondary schools
“Families can expect, and the public can expect this pursuit of excellence of academics that comes with a fun pursuit of learning that are coupled together to produce a better school experience for all students,” said Hendrick.
Phylisia Haskins has two kids in Pinellas County Schools and weighed in on the safety steps the district is taking.
“Even last year, they were pretty good with getting emails and phone calls out to us letting us know when something was happening at the school, so the fact that they’re doing even more is kind of comforting that they’re taking it seriously because it should be taken seriously,” said Haskins.
The first day of school for students in Pinellas County Schools is August 10.