Hanna: Monitoring could be an answer to school safety
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Using the old-fashioned concept of eyes and ears might actually be the best answer to concerns over school security, a wide spread topic since 17 students were killed in a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School on Valentines’ Day.
That’s the position that Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna took after hearing a report on efforts that LCS is taking to harden security on school campuses in Tallahassee. Bullet-proofed glass or even arming teachers isn’t the way to deter mass shooters, he said.
“We could spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to try to harden schools, but is that going to stop incidents like this from happening,” Hanna said. “I dare say no. I think it goes to what board members have said. We have to do a better job of identifying young people who are struggling for whatever reason and give them the help they desperately need.”
Hanna used the story of a former hall monitor at Leon High School, where he was principal, to illustrate his point. That monitor would report the least unusual occurrence on campus, he said.
“If a flea jumped on that campus that didn’t belong that guy was on him like a hawk,” Hanna said. “He would follow that person and call the deputy.”
Hanna stated his position during a presentation on school safety by John Hunkiar, chief of Leon County School Safety and Security, at a recent School Board meeting. He outlined ongoing efforts between LCS and law enforcement to harden access to schools.
A lot of the suggestions on the table could be expensive. Many proposals are in a $500 million package that Gov. Rick Scott wants to put in place.
Some of what Scott proposed was part of an unusual legislative session held last Saturday as legislators tried to find a plan to make all state schools safer.
While Hanna wasn’t sure how much of the funding that Scott proposed would go to Leon County schools, routine active shooter drills is a part of the LCS plan, along with having more Sheriff deputies at each school, he said.
“I wouldn’t say we have a long way to go but we have to continuously improve,” Hunkiar said. “We have to show our parents that we can’t have a child come home and this is unfamiliar to them.
“Tragedy and school violence is a reality in today’s America. I wish I didn’t have to say that but we’ve watched what happened in Vegas, we’ve watched what happened at Virginia Tech and a series of school shootings in the 1990s. Now more than ever we’re realizing this is not just a job for the school district, this is not a job for the police department.”
Arming teachers, a proposal that has caused political friction locally and nationally, isn’t one of the strategies endorsed by Hunkiar. Having teachers return to assist in monitoring hallways is a much better fix than arming them, Hanna said.
“All the metal detectors and running 2,000 kids through an air-port like system is not practical. It’s just not,” he said. “We can talk about closing campuses and closing options but I think we are going to get the most bang for our buck by surrounding the perimeter and watching who is coming on our campuses and who is going off.”
Parents and communities should be more engaged in helping to make schools safe, he said, adding that in almost every case such as the Sandy Hook shooting the suspect suffered with some form of mental illness.
The signs are usually ignored, he said, although they are usually obvious.
“A person that is not involved in anything; doesn’t have a circle of friends or anybody to confide in, doesn’t have goals and not working, those are the ones that can create those kinds of tragedies,” said Hunkiar. “When you look at Sandy Hook and you look at this one; loner, out of school, no friends and unemployed. Those are the kinds of things a family needs to look at and get that person some assistance.”
Each of the six board members, who held an all-day meeting on safety a day earlier, took time to express their concerns over what might work best. Chairwoman Alva Striplin said she’d like for the final plans to be in place for the start of the next school year in the fall.
However, she acknowledged that there will have to be plenty of discussions before arriving at the best concept for school safety.
“This will not be the end of the conversation,” she said. “We will include our community; our students and our parents.”