Guest commentary: Look back, ahead at Sandy Hook lessons

Guest commentary

As we commemorate the anniversary of the horrific acts of violence which occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., we wish to take a moment to reflect on what has transpired since.

Shortly after the tragedy, Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was among the 20 first-graders and six adults who lost their lives that morning, stated what the rest of us were feeling: “I do not want there to be a next time!”

We in Collier County continue to do everything within our power to greatly reduce the odds of anything even resembling the Sandy Hook massacre ever occurring here.

Collier County Public Schools and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office have always worked as a team. Our 36-year partnership is stronger than ever.

This incident validated our time and efforts to constantly review and revise our policy and procedures to provide a safe educational environment.

Working as a team, we took a number of steps to improve school safety and security which included the enhancement of procedures, the scheduling of staff training and school safety drills, and the ongoing coordination with first responders.

Here is a partial listing of what we have accomplished:

Immediately following the tragedy, we reviewed and strengthened the existing comprehensive plan for school safety.

We produced a school safety video. It was shown to all district- and school-based administrators during a daylong critical incident response training meeting on Jan. 4. During the meeting, Sheriff’s Office officials conducted a school violence training exercise for principals, assistant principals, deans, administrative staff and high school activities staff. The safety video was also shown to all school and school district employees in the week that followed. It served as a reminder of what to do and not do in the event that a school is threatened by violent behavior.

We felt it imperative that we also make school staff aware of the warning signs of mental illness, so we asked the David Lawrence Center into our partnership to assist with the production of a mental health awareness video. This video was shown to all school district employees. We have since produced a similar video for parents which we shared at school open houses as we began the 2013-14 school year. In addition, we have posted the mental health video on our district website with local and national resources.

The school district made physical improvements to our schools to enhance safety. The district completed an upgrade of school surveillance capabilities, and we are in the process of completing the updating of perimeter security to schools.

In partnership with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the school district developed a first-of-its-kind regional school safety training program for law enforcement. Forty deputies graduated with certificates showing they are ready to work in school settings during the inaugural class in March. Additional classes will be scheduled.

In September, the Sheriff’s Office received a $500,000 U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, which will be used to add four additional, certified deputies to our schools.

Active shooter training has been completed by the Sheriff’s Office for all uniformed patrol deputies and for the sheriff’s cadre of Youth Relations Bureau deputies. This training has been conducted in stages throughout the year and continues on a regular basis. Additional training has included group and individual school violence and firearms training for deputies.

Although not new, every school has a law enforcement presence daily. Deputies routinely patrol school campuses to look for unusual activity. Students and staff have told us that they feel safe and secure knowing that deputies are on duty to protect and serve.

The Sandy Hook tragedy reminded us that it really does take a village to safeguard the well-being of our treasured school communities. Parents and guardians, please encourage your child to speak with someone in authority if they notice a fellow student exhibiting unusual behavior. In turn, we ask that you continue to be our eyes and ears by reporting safety concerns that you might notice.

Safety is our top priority. Our goal is and always has been to provide the safest learning environment possible for our students, staff, parents, visitors and school volunteers. We are totally committed to maintaining our schools as safe havens for learning, places where human life is held dear.

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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