BY JAMES HARPER
Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t answer a student’s question Tuesday on what his plans are to make schools safer nearly one month after a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The little girl was one of more than 10 students who approached a microphone at Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach to ask Scott a question while he was visiting the school to talk about the importance of education.
The predominantly Black school, like other elementary schools in Volusia County, has no school resource officer and is located in an area known for criminal activity.
‘A scary time’
The school’s principal, Earl Johnson, who believes his students are safe, wants funding found for a permanent school resource officer who would serve as a deterrent to prevent what happened in Connecticut from happening at his school.
Johnson said the students would feel more secure with an officer on campus.
Scott’s response to the student was that he was worried about the Connecticut families of those who lost loved ones during the massacre, which took place on Dec. 14.
“It’s a scary time. Lives are devastated. We’ve got to make sure our schools are safe,” Scott said.
He was later pressed by the media to elaborate on the student’s question but would only say that all school districts were asked to review their security policies.
When asked by the media if he would be seeking funding for more law enforcement officers on all public school campuses, Scott said no resources were available.
Pressed about arms
The Daytona Times specifically asked the governor if he would support teachers and other school staff being armed while working. He refused to answer the question even though he was asked it twice.
Scott did say, “We’ve got to do more for mental health (for students),” which is another solution that some teachers and parents have been calling for in addition to having law enforcement on the school campuses.
The governor told the students there is never enough money to take care of all the needs of the state but added he wants to put as much money as he can in education.
He told the several hundred in attendance that residents pay sales and property taxes and it is his job as governor to make proposals about what to do with the money.
Nancy H. Wait, director of Community Information Services for Volusia County Schools said in a statement released to the Daytona Times on Wednesday that (the school district is) ‘’strictly reinforcing its comprehensive safety and security plans at all schools and has asked law enforcement to have a greater presence in and around all school campuses.’’
The statement added, “In addition, meetings are planned with law enforcement agencies to discuss what other actions could be taken to further enhance security.”
In a recorded message to parents after the Connecticut incident last month, Volusia County Schools Superintendent Margaret Smith said “our school district has taken all of the steps that we can to keep our students safe.”
Smith said the district had reviewed safety and security procedures and put additional measures in place.
Students returned to school Jan. 7 after Christmas break with city and county law enforcement officers in their parking lots and near their schools.
All Volusia County high schools currently have school resource officers.
“It’s a pretty good deterrent,” said New Smyrna Beach High School Principal James Tager, who shares a resource office with a middle school located a mile away from his school.
Tager said he would like to see an officer at his school and other schools full time but doesn’t expect it to happen because of the district’s current budget crisis.
Westside Elementary School Principal Judi Winch said she would welcome an officer on her campus.
She recalled that before Christmas break, right after the Connecticut incident that her school had to go on a 2 ½ hour lock down because of a criminal activity taking place near the school.
Winch said she would like to see more money for mental health – “more money toward being proactive then reactive.’’
She added, “I don’t want to see teachers armed in school though some of our faculty are licensed to carry a gun.’’
14 on duty
Campbell Middle School Principal Craig Zablo said he is grateful for the school resource officers even though his is only at the school part time.
“Parents have a comfort level with him. He’s not about arresting kids. He’s about putting them on the right path. Communication is the key,” Zablo said, adding that parents and students are comfortable going to their school resource officer asking for help if they are concerned about a child or another student.
There are 14 Volusia County school resource deputies, which are paid for out of school district coffers.
At one time, there were 28 school resource deputies. When the sheriff office’s budget was cut, the department was no longer able to pay for the 14 additional officers at the schools.
There are 66 schools in the county plus another 12 charter schools. The county would need approximate 60 officers hired to make sure all Volusia schools have deputies on duty, which would cost an additional $5 million more a year.