LEE COUNTY — Lee County Schools Superintendent Joseph Burke is calling for increased awareness of mental health issues in response to Friday's school shooting that left 20 children and six school employees dead in Newtown, Conn.
District administrators are emphasizing school safety measures and considering additional enhancements, including potentially increasing the number of lockdown drills or bringing on additional resource officers, he said.
But, Burke said, similar situations are likely if society doesn't begin paying more attention to mental health. He pointed to the Virginia Tech mass shooting and other violent attacks, noting that often the person responsible was revealed after the fact to have shown signs of mental instability.
"These things are going to reoccur not because of the fundamental safety issues, but because we have people out there in our society who are very ill and who have access to guns and they act on impulse and they act on sort of these insane, maniacal kinds of scenarios and people get killed," Burke said.
Burke's comments came during a press conference Monday, as educators and government officials across the state and country continued to evaluate school safety and weigh in on how to improve it in the wake of the Sandy Hook, Conn. shootings.
The Florida representative who sponsored the bill that became the state's "stand your ground" law said schools would be safer if principals and teachers were allowed to carry guns, the Associated Press reported. The idea, suggested by Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was rejected by the state's largest teacher's union, the Florida Education Association, with a spokesman saying it doesn't make sense.
Gov. Rick Scott asked school leaders to review emergency procedures and create measures to enhance student safety. He reminded them of a state law requiring districts to have annually-updated safety plans and a Florida Department of Education policy that details school preparation and response to threats and emergencies.
"School should be a sanctuary for learning and creativity where students, teachers and parents feel safe — and a review of these procedures will enhance safety for Florida schools," Scott said in a statement.
Burke said his cabinet is considering increasing the number of lockdown drills, which currently stands at two per school year. Another idea officials will take a "careful look at" is increasing the number of school resource officers. Every high school has one, but middle and elementary schools share them, Burke said.
School safety funding has been cut repeatedly in recent years, with the district down to less than 40 percent of the resources it had three years ago, Burke said.
In Collier County, school administrators met to review protocols, policies and procedures, but cannot disclose specifics, according to a news release. They also met with Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and his leadership team.
Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said the school safety plan is "very proactive" and the wellbeing of students is "always our primary concern."
Burke emphasized the same point. He said the most important measure to take at the moment is to heighten vigilance and ensure people are attentive to their surroundings. The superintendent asked school principals to reinforce single points of entry at each school and to review emergency procedures with staff.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nothing like this happens in our community," Burke said.
Both districts have counselors available to help students struggling with Friday's shootings and will be looking for signs that they are upset.
"Each of us is grieving the loss of life, we're grieving for the families and for the senselessness of all of this," Burke said, "and I've asked our staff, as we seek sanity over the next few days and weeks, that we support one another and try to stay calm and stay strong in the face of the craziness that occurred last Friday."